Washington, D.C., (June 7, 2023) — In a letter released in June, an unprecedented alliance of more than 400 top female leaders in education and their allies have joined in condemning the longstanding gender gaps in education leadership and calling for action at the federal, state and local levels. Organized by the group Women Leading Ed, the alliance includes state commissioners of education, state cabinet leaders,
school district superintendents, school district central office leaders, and school administrators. The letter was published alongside a new report from Women Leading Ed, which describes in detail the many obstacles women in education face, and strategies to eliminate them.
Despite the fact that the teaching workforce is 80% female, when it comes to the top job, men outnumber women 3:1. Recent research shows that just three in ten district superintendents nationwide are women, a fact that has remained unchanged for nearly a decade. Incredibly, the huge wave of turnover in the “Great Resignation” did nothing to change that. From 2020 to 2022, more than 200 U.S. school districts conducted superintendent searches that resulted in a new leader. Men were selected seven out of ten times, even in districts where the previous superintendent had been a woman.
“The problem is not a lack of capable women,” said Dr. Julia Rafal-Baer, Founder and CEO of Women Leading Ed. “Studies show that women are just as likely as men to aspire to leadership positions, and there are many women in education who are skilled, savvy, and ready to step up into executive roles. But we also know that there continue to be these barriers, both informal and systemic, that hold women back from reaching the top job, and until we take intentional steps to change those, America’s students and schools will continue to miss out on huge swaths of talent.”
The companion report to the public advocacy letter released on June 1st by Women Leading Ed offers a “playbook” of policies and practices for others to use, and synthesizes years of public and private sector workplace research, and makes the case for five strategies to address barriers that have long kept women
from rising into cabinet positions. These strategies came out of Women Leading Ed’s 2023 inaugural summit in Charlotte, N.C., which brought top female leaders from across the country together for the first time.
“We’re advocating for policies and practices that will make superintendencies not only more attainable for women, but also more sustainable,” said Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell, Superintendent of Oakland Unified School District in California. “Our advocacy letter is really about articulating how to build the pipeline for women and women of color by providing on-the-job coaching and professional sponsorship, by creating more flexible work options, by ensuring women and men are paid equally for the same job and the same experience, and by providing high-quality benefits and leave. These are policies that don’t just benefit women, they make the job better for men, too.”
“Having more women and more women of color in superintendent seats is about student outcomes,” said Candice Castillo, Incoming Deputy Secretary of the New Mexico Public Education Department. “Right now schools across America are rethinking how they allocate resources, how they address unfinished learning and accelerate progress, and how they can support students. There’s a real value for students in seeing people that look like them in leadership positions, and seeing that education really is a passport to wherever they want to go in life — the sky is the limit.”
“This new report is our way of saying, in one collective voice, ‘Here is a playbook outlining the actions we think will change the trajectory for women in education leadership positions,’” said Dr. Susan Enfield, Superintendent of Washoe County Public Schools. “We’re really naming some of the biggest challenges — salary inequities, the ways in which women are or are not sought out by search firms to go for some of these roles, a lack of leave policies, and so on — and instead of bemoaning the fact that these barriers persist, we’re saying, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do about them.’”
“Oftentimes women are still held to the dominant culture narrative of what a woman should be and the roles that a woman should live up to, and yet women rarely have the support systems to go with that,” said Dr. LaTanya McDade, Superintendent of Prince William County Public Schools. “We’re advocating for a framework that essentially gives direction to boards and other leaders to ensure that women in leadership have the supports that they need to be successful. We have to make sure that we’re not just talking about what working in education should look like for women, but that we’re taking action. We have to advocate for ourselves and also hold others accountable.”
Women Leading Ed invites anyone to join the call to action by signing their names to the public letter, available at womenleadinged.com.
Women Leading Ed is an ever-expanding national network for women superintendents and those who aspire to land the top CEO roles in districts and states. We’ve supported over 100 women (and counting) to navigate the politics of leadership by building trust, relationship, and networks. Learn more about Women Leading Ed at womenleadinged.com and follow on social media @WomenLeadingEd.