Founder, Emma Sheppard, reflects on her own innate gender stereotyping as she introduces two new members of the Accreditation Coaching team.

This month, we will be welcoming two new Coaches onto The MTPT Project Accreditation team, and they are male.

Initially, this was a step that sent a shiver of hesitancy through me.   We are no stranger to men and fathers at The MTPT Project – we have active male members of our community, and advisors and Advocates who are men, and our incubation relationship with The Teacher Development Trust is lead by men.  In fact, working in a sector dominated by “MumsNets” and “MumsGroups” and “Mumpreneurs”, we are proud to be The MaternityTeacher PaternityTeacher Project and to be part of a wider conversation about equality and inclusion in parenting as well as the workplace.  The fact remains, however, that all of the volunteers who make up the formal MTPT Project team are women.

What’s more, whilst our Accreditation is open to teachers on parental leave, regardless of gender, our current cohort of 78 teachers are all women.  Maternity leave can be an emotional time and even though the Accreditation focuses on self-directed CPD, our Coaches often discuss much more personal issues like confidence, guilt and aligning conflicting priorities.  In so many cases, personal growth is entangled with our professional development and this can be sensitive and emotionally challenging, even without factoring in the fatigue of parenting a newborn. Would our teachers, I wondered, want to do this with (gasp!) a man?

During the induction process with George, one of our new Coaches, he raised the issue frankly: “you might want to clarify whether teachers are happy to be coached by a man before matching me with them.” My immediate reaction was to agree – and I suggested putting a preference option on our sign up form.  But now the issue was even more uncomfortable: the mere act of requesting a specific gender in a professional environment is surely a hugely discriminatory no-no?  If someone requested not to work with me, be taught by me, or be mentored by me because of my gender, I would be outraged and label it as the sexism it is – so why is a reversed scenario any different?  I racked my brain for instances where selecting a gender preference was acceptable: au pairs, flatshares, the GP… but probably not tutors, conference speakers or lawyers…?

In the induction process with Chris, our second male coach, who I had met through his participation with WomenEd and professional connection with another member of our Coaching team, I asked him about this potentially delicate scenario.  He tactically agreed that it was a consideration, but pointed out that having a more explicitly gender-inclusive team could be the impetus for increased involvement from our father-teachers.  

As we were speaking, however, I realised – somewhat foolishly – that I was exploring concerns entirely mismatched to my own reality.  On both maternity leaves, I have been coached by two separate men, on two separate occasions. Both were fathers, both went out of their way to make me and my babies feel comfortable in face to face sessions, and neither of them at any point talked down to me or made me feel as if they had any prejudices surrounding what I should and shouldn’t be doing. They didn’t even make it explicit that they admired me for my CPD or entrepreneurial efforts.  They simply provided an open, focused and safe space – even when their questions were challenging and I pushed against my own preconceived ideas – to gain clarity and fulfilment around my ambitions and context.

What mattered wasn’t their gender, but their experience and qualifications as Coaches and Mentors and their commitment to developing a professional relationship with their clients, and the values of the organisation.