I have been in k-12 education for over twenty-five years, beginning as most women in education at the elementary level. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, seventy-six percent of all K-12 educators in the United States are women (2020). Only 26.9, up more than 2 percent from 2010, of school superintendents are female (American Association of School Administrators, 2015). Female private school counterparts fare a little better but not much. Those who reach top levels of education leadership usually need at least one more degree than men to earn the same salary, and women earn almost 15 percent less than their male counterparts (Kise and Watterston, 2019). My husband and I both are educators. We met teaching at the same school and completed our Masters’s degree in the same program. I completed two additional Post-Masters programs and am now a doctoral candidate. I am a 12-month administrator, and he works 10 months as a teacher and coach and earns a higher salary than I do.
I am fortunate that I work in a school with a female head of school who has mentored me and given me several opportunities to grow professionally. I previously worked in administration in a public school and another independent school where the top leadership teams were male dominant, and preference was given to those who looked and acted like them. Women actually possess many qualities that make them strong and successful leaders. Women should endeavor to break away from previous mindsets that women have to act like men to be seen as successful, and they should value and embrace their unique qualities.
Many women do not reach top-level educational positions until later in life due to overcoming internal barriers such as home-life balance, perceptions of job readiness, and developing agency and advocacy in determining their career path. This was my experience. Women must also learn to navigate external barriers such as few female role models, limited experience in requisite skills, and organizational politics, which disfavor women. As a leader in education, I hope to recognize and nurture leadership in others, particularly women, and serve as a mentor and sponsor to help them grow in their careers. Women often take circuitous or happenchance paths to leadership, and I would like to help them see career choices and opportunities that they may not be aware of. I would like to see educational leadership programs address these issues. I do not regret my path and the time I took away from my career for my family, but I had to forge my path with little direction or assistance. If I had been aware of other options or paths available, it would have been helpful.
Another place where I am aware of gender inequality is in the dearth of pre-k-8 male teachers. Students need to see male role models and educators at this level. Since becoming an administrator and responsible for hiring staff, I have sought to increase racial-ethnic diversity and gender diversity. To do so often requires a different approach to hiring and talent development. I was fortunate that I could bring expertise from other experiences in my life to broaden my approach in the hiring process. I suggest that talent procurement, development, and mentorship are other areas where educational change is needed. I am pleased to see a growing number of candidates in this arena, but there is still room for growth. The diversity has changed the dynamics of our teams for the better, adding perspective, strength, and balance.
Truly resilient educational leaders adeptly wield multidimensional leadership, which fits the complexity of the school’s expectations and situational needs. Successful leaders know how to use masculine and feminine leadership types with discretion, and they seek to overcome stereotypes. As leaders, we should aspire to recognize where gender and leadership bend and become fluid and adjust accordingly.