Get started today.

Women in EYFS leadership roles are the backbone of the sector

Strategies to overcome professional barriers women are still facing
11 min of reading
10 July 2023
Women in EYFS leadership roles - cover image

Who runs the world, girls! Well, no, actually. Leaders who are women are still underrepresented compared to men. Although steps are being made to increase the visibility of women at senior level positions with the FTSE 100 companies, women still only fill 30% of the leadership roles in the UK.

Turning the spotlight to education is no rosier. A whopping 85% of the primary teaching force is female, yet only 74% of headteachers are women. It is important to have female leaders in the early years and education for gender justice and equality, visibility and to give a voice to the majority in this profession. Lucy Lewin, early years leader, discusses the challenges women face in EYFS leadership and strategies to overcome these barriers.

In this article, you will find:

    Meet the expert and guest writer: Lucy Lewin

    Lucy Lewin

    Hi there, I’m Lucy Lewin. I’ve been a successful early years leader for over 13 years, owning my own thriving nursery. I work tirelessly for my setting to ensure all staff are supported and achieve their potential. As a woman in a leadership role in the EYFS, my years in the sector have not been without their challenges (whose has!). In result, I’ve created the ‘Solution Process Map’ to empower my team, as well as to actively inspire and encourage progress for other businesses in the EY sector.

    What makes a good Early Years leader?

    What makes a good Early Years leader

    Positive work cultures are essential for children and nursery practitioners to thrive. Effective leadership sets the tone and expectations of relationships across the setting.

    These relationships include staff-staff, staff-parents, and staff-children. Securing trusting, positive working relationships across your nursery are vital for a successful setting.

    When you are passionate about a topic, you can’t help but uplift people with your enthusiasm. Being a good leader in the Early Years means motivating staff to try their best and always strive for the highest standard for the nursery and families.

    Plus, according to a report by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), effective leadership in early years education can have a significant impact on children’s outcomes.

    Leadership quality is a key driver of improvements in early years education settings, with strong leaders able to create positive cultures, and improve staff motivation and performance. Which in turn, creates a meaningful start to a child’s education journey.

    What challenges are faced by women in leadership?

    A lack of representation in senior positions is an issue facing women in educational leadership roles in the UK. Even though women make up the majority of the education workforce, they are significantly underrepresented in senior leadership positions.

    This lack of representation not only limits women’s career opportunities but also means that settings are missing out on the diverse perspectives and experiences that women can bring to leadership roles.

    Moreover, gender bias and stereotypes in the workplace act as barriers to getting women into leadership positions. And it’s no secret that women can be held to higher standards than men in leadership roles.

    Sexism in the Early Years is something that we, all EY leaders, can work to address in those first 5 years children spend at our settings. By holding all children, and staff, accountable at the same level. Ultimately, for everyone’s benefit.

    Think of traits that are typically thought of as being ‘female’ (of course, we are referring to anyone who identifies as a woman throughout this article). Common responses are: nurturing, intelligent, sensitive, and organised.

    Repeat the same exercise but for males (again, anyone identifying as male). Confident, assertive, driven, and successful are among some of the common phrases for male characteristics.

    So, when we have leaders who are women, who display traits society deems ‘masculine’ inconsistent stereotypes are triggered. This is where women are battling against different standards of behaviour in the workplace. ‘Assertive’ becomes bossy. ‘Empathetic’ becomes weak.

    Now this is not to say that stereotypically female traits are damaging to a woman’s success in the sector- oh contraire! These skills are highly associated with emotional intelligence – a vital skill set for any successful leader in any sector.

    And I encourage every leader – aspiring or current – to work on their emotional intelligence for the success of their business. In the early years, the overwhelming majority of the workforce is female, including in leadership positions. So why does the stereotype of what a leader should look like still stand?

    Women continue to be the main (unpaid) care-givers in our society, which can often time with the movement into management. Having children or having elderly dependents can significantly impact career progression opportunities. 

    Paternity leave limitations can make shared parental leave challenging, meaning women often sacrifice career progression for raising a family. Although there have been government changes to the nursery funding processes, aiming to assist working parents with childcare, working full-time with dependents is a balancing act for all families.

    Strategies for women in EYFS leadership to consider

    I have been a successful early years leader for over a decade. If I could recommend anything to those new to EYFS leadership, it would be to set boundaries to understand the role and responsibilities of being a leader. Your strengths should help you to work smarter, not harder.

    And I believe there are 5 key components to an effective nursery business. These ‘5 Ps’ have been developed over the years and (across my nursery) are tried and tested. These are the 5 strategies for women in EYFS leadership to consider.


    In my setting, we have an operation manual. Here all expectations and requirements are set out. It is used as a reference tool for all of my team, and it helps to guide towards solutions within the safety of the company’s values, mission and vision.


    Nobody plans to fail; they simply fail to plan. When you run a childcare business, accountability and safety are paramount. Time-saving tools and software are essential for being proactive in managing your childcare company. Nursery software that helps to improve staff communication is a must-have.


    You are only as strong as your team. I am grateful my team is fantastic. Setting induction is key to laying out your ethos, vision and expectations to joining team members whilst making sure you are totally compliant and safe.

    During setting introductions, it is useful to highlight which staff members can support and mentor them to achieve their full potential. Retaining EYFS staff is challenging; good leadership significantly helps to keep your gold-dust practitioners.


    Nursery profits extend your runway, and give your company the capacity to invest in your team’s personal and professional development. Avoiding common financial mistakes for your nursery can help to ensure maximum profitability. I am extremely proud of the profit my childcare business produces, and rightly so! I ensure I am aware of what I must track, measure and plan ahead for.

    Professional development

    My one true passion, the element of early years leadership that brings my natural strengths and loves into one heading, my passion for everyone to reach their full potential.

    I truly hold dear my belief that the quality of the education you give to your team directly impacts the quality of the education that they give to the children. Professional development for yourself and your team cannot be a ‘one day’ ideology. Especially as leaders in the sector.

    Something that all EY leaders should remember is that, done effectively and efficiently, professional development keeps the fire burning in the core of your team. It gives them a reason to be optimistic, it gives them a purpose to anchor into and something to work towards.

    Tips on how to support women in EYFS leadership

    Know someone who'd like to read this article?
    a 30min session
    no strings attached