In these days of equal opportunities, the opportunities are available but the interest is proving far from equal.
Teaching remains a bastion for women. That’s particularly the case in early years education, where 100% of the teaching staff are female.
In what seems like a statistic dragged from the 1970s, Northern Ireland has not one male nursery school teacher.
What the latest teaching profession workforce profile from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency doesn’t reveal, though, is whether any men have applied for positions in nursery schools.
The staffing picture is similar in primary schools, with female teachers making up 85% of the workforce.
There has always been an unspoken notion that it’s better to have a woman teaching primary one and primary two classes than a man.
You see men in gardening and caretaker roles in primary schools, but never in the classrooms, it seems.
While women dominate the workforce throughout all our schools, the figures indicate something equally alarming higher up the chain.
The top of the pyramid remains disproportionately dominated by men.
It’s a situation that applies to many areas of public life, including health, policing and the political and business worlds.
Sadly, it seems that women who set their sights on reaching the top have many more barriers to overcome than men — and that’s not something that will change overnight.
As things stand in post-primary schools, women make up around two-thirds of the workforce, though less than half of them have been rewarded with a principal role.
Education in Northern Ireland has barely changed in 100 years. It hasn’t moved with the times. It needs help and encouragement to do so.
Teaching, as a career, lends itself to young women.
The obvious attraction for those who may be recently married, or who may be wishing to start a family, is the time they will be able to spend at home with their families during the long summer holiday and over Christmas and Easter.
But that doesn’t do anything to allay the concern that so few have been trusted with the running of our schools.
Education needs to address the image it has of all teachers being equal but some being more equal than others.
The gender imbalance is symptomatic of the education sector as a whole.
The system was so far entrenched in a compromise of necessity during the formation of Northern Ireland that it has only started to claw its way out.
Education was historically dominated by churches, which could be one of the reasons why women always seem to be the teachers and men organisers.
But change could be coming, however slowly.
The figures show that there are now more teachers in the 50 to 59 age group than ever before. The numbers fall significantly for those aged 30 to 39, but look further down the list and the number of younger teachers is growing.
They’re bringing new ideas into the profession, and the universities responsible for preparing the workforce of the future are actively engaging with schools to redress the balance between male and female.
It’s a positive sign, but attracting more people into the profession rests on the ability to ensure there is a healthy wage and a healthy workload once they get there. If you build it properly, they will come.
Northern Ireland should not see education as the problem it appears to be. It should see it is an opportunity.
Breaking the shackles of an archaic system can be a catalyst to free minds. Northern Ireland needs to find the stomach to break with the past.
The appearance of integrated schools is a relatively recent phenomenon, and there is a great deal of clamour for integration of pupils on religious grounds. But maybe that should be matched by a clamour for more women teachers in senior positions.
We shouldn’t pick and choose how we integrate. That’s not really integration at all.