Unprecedented Alliance of 400+ Prominent Female Leaders and Allies Takes Action to Eradicate Gender Disparities in Education Leadership

June 7, 2023 : More than 400 prominent female educational leaders and their allies have united in a historic alliance to denounce the persistent gender disparities in educational leadership roles. The coalition, Women Leading Ed, consists of state education commissioners, cabinet leaders, superintendents, central office leaders, and school administrators. In a recently published letter, the alliance emphasizes the urgent need for federal, state, and local action to address this issue. Accompanying the letter is a comprehensive report by Women Leading Ed, which meticulously outlines the various challenges women face in education and proposes strategies to overcome them.

Despite women comprising 80% of the teaching workforce, they are vastly underrepresented in top leadership positions, with men outnumbering women by a ratio of 3:1. Recent research reveals that only three out of ten district superintendents in the United States are women. This ratio has remained unchanged for nearly a decade. Alarmingly, even the significant wave of turnover during the “Great Resignation” failed to alter this gender disparity. Between 2020 and 2022, over 200 school districts nationwide conducted superintendent searches resulting in new appointments. Still, men were chosen seven out of ten times, even in districts where the outgoing superintendent was a woman.

Dr. Julia Rafal-Baer, the Founder and CEO of Women Leading Ed, points out that the issue does not stem from a lack of capable women. Studies indicate that women possess equal aspirations for leadership positions compared to men, and numerous skilled and competent women in education are ready to assume executive roles. However, persistent informal and systemic barriers impede women’s progress to top leadership positions. Addressing these barriers is crucial to ensuring that American students and schools benefit from the vast pool of talented women.

The recently published report from Women Leading Ed serves as a playbook, offering policies and practices to be adopted by others. Drawing on years of research in both the public and private sectors, the report advocates for five strategies to dismantle the long-standing barriers preventing women from attaining cabinet positions. These strategies emerged from Women Leading Ed’s inaugural summit in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2023, which brought together leading female educators nationwide.

Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell, Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District, emphasizes the importance of advocating for policies and practices that make superintendent positions more attainable and sustainable for women. These include on-the-job coaching, professional sponsorship, flexible work options, pay equity, and high-quality benefits and leave. Dr. Johnson-Trammell emphasizes that these policies benefit not only women but also improve the job environment for men.

Candice Castillo, the Incoming Deputy Secretary of the New Mexico Public Education Department, highlights the significance of having more women, particularly women of color, in superintendent roles for student outcomes. Schools nationwide are reassessing resource allocation, addressing learning gaps, and striving to support students effectively. Representation matters, and seeing leaders who resemble them helps inspire students to recognize education as a passport to limitless possibilities.

Dr. Susan Enfield, Superintendent of the Washoe County Public Schools, asserts that the report aims to address challenges head-on and present a blueprint for transforming the trajectory of women in educational leadership positions. It confronts salary disparities, the lack of attention from search firms, and inadequate leave policies. Instead of lamenting these persistent barriers, the report focuses on actionable steps to overcome them.

Dr. LaTanya McDade, Superintendent of the Prince William County Public Schools, emphasizes the need for a supportive framework that enables women in leadership positions to succeed. Often, women are subjected to societal expectations without corresponding support systems. Dr. McDade advocates for a framework that not only defines the ideal working conditions for women in education but also ensures the implementation of such policies. It is crucial to advocate for oneself while holding others accountable.

The collective voice of the alliance of female education leaders, accompanied by their strategic playbook, signifies a significant step toward addressing gender disparities in education leadership. By taking proactive measures and advocating for change, these leaders aim to create a more equitable and inclusive landscape that will benefit students, educators, and the education system.