According to a recent policy paper published by the Chiefs for Change, a nonprofit network of state and district leaders that advocates for educational equity for all students, the vast majority of top-level, education leadership positions — namely district superintendents and state chiefs —are white men.
While women make up three-quarters of all teachers as well as the majority of principals and cabinet-level administrators in districts, they are disproportionately precluded from the very top — comprising less than one-third of district superintendents.
The policy paper offers two key reasons for this inequity. The first stems from longstanding societal norms that have impacted women not just in education, but across all industries. One example of such norms may be the stereotypical view that women’s family commitments may conflict with the demands of a senior leadership position. However, a more prominent reason that hinders women from becoming district superintendents is related to structural issues in education leadership.
According to research conducted by Chiefs for Change, “recruiting processes are often run by men and subject to the biases of school boards; searches tend to favor candidates with male-dominated backgrounds like high school principalships and roles related to finance and operation.”
The paper recommends three key steps to address the gender balance issue. The first includes “setting clear, public goals for greater gender equity at the superintendent level.” The second involves instituting mentorship and networking programs that intentionally train, prepare and support women aspiring to top leadership roles such as district superintendents. The third involves providing greater support to those who attain the job, whether through greater coaching opportunities or family-friendly policies.
While creating structural change requires intentionality and a well-planned approach that includes stakeholders across education and policy isles, it’s important to remember why diversity in education leadership is important to begin with.
In her guest blog for Education Week, Mary Tedrow, a high school teacher and author, wrote, “what is good for humanity is at the core of a feminine ethos. [Women] are the bearers and nurturers of life. We bring skills and talents that, when ignored or sidelined, skew society in damaging ways.”
Restoring balance in education leadership across all levels including the very top will not only set the right example for our students but it will help create a culture of inclusivity and respect, one that will bring out the best on all fronts.