April 9, 2019
Report: Far More Women Should Be in Top Education Leadership Roles

Washington, DC—Women comprise the majority of the education workforce—except at the very top. A new report from Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan network of state and district education leaders, provides a detailed, state-by-state analysis of inequities in education leadership and outlines solutions to help more women, and women of color in particular, become district superintendents and state chiefs.

The report, Breaking Through: Shattering the Glass Ceiling for Women Leaders, indicates that women make up three quarters of all teachers, more than half of all principals, and the majority of cabinet-level administrators. Yet, at the district level, less than one third of superintendents are women, and only 11 percent are women of color. At the state level, 45 percent of chiefs are women, and 8 percent are women of color.

There are many societal and structural reasons for these inequities, according to the report. They include stereotypes about male chief executives; biases about the capabilities of women and leaders of color; perceived conflicts in balancing family responsibilities with the demands of senior leadership roles; recruiting processes dominated by men; and searches that favor candidates with typically male-dominated backgrounds such as high school principalships and roles related to finance and operations.

“This is not merely a problem of fairness, of representation, or of opportunity,” the report states. “By squandering the promise of many of the nation’s best education leaders, we have created a talent crisis at the top of systems that serve millions of children. And changing that will require intentionally remaking a system that long ago put men in charge of women, not by happenstance, but by design.”

Chiefs for Change is committed to building a pipeline of talented, diverse leaders through its Future Chiefs program. Future Chiefs come from across the political spectrum and have held positions in more than 20 states. Eighty percent of participants are leaders of color, and 56 percent are women. After seeing that only 23 percent of women Future Chiefs applied to become superintendents or state chiefs, compared to 83 percent of men in the program, Chiefs for Change developed programming specifically tailored to women. Since then, it has doubled the proportion of women applying for chief roles, and three women Future Chiefs have ascended to the top job in recent months: Susana CordovaPenny Schwinn, and Angélica Infante-Green.

“The extreme underrepresentation of women—especially women of color—in district superintendent and statewide education leadership roles is a gut punch and call to action for all of us,” said Dr. Julia Rafal-Baer, chief operating officer at Chiefs for Change. “Fixing this crisis means creating a clear path to leadership for people who have the talent, energy, and vision to do great things for our kids, but who have been overlooked in the past because they aren’t part of the club. We need to tell these uncomfortable truths in order to change the status quo.”

Chiefs for Change is calling on school systems, school boards, mayors, and governors across the United States to shift the gender balance at the highest levels of education leadership. Specifically, it recommends:

  •      Setting clear, public goals for greater gender equity at the superintendent level.
  •      Intentionally grooming more women for leadership positions.
  •      Providing greater coaching support and inclusive, family-friendly policies.

Chiefs for Change will release the report today at an event co-hosted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C. The event is open to press; an RSVP is requested.

About Chiefs for Change

Chiefs for Change is a nonprofit, bipartisan network of diverse state and district education chiefs dedicated to preparing all students for today’s world and tomorrow’s through deeply committed leadership. Chiefs for Change advocates for policies and practices that are making a difference today for students, and builds a pipeline of talented, diverse Future Chiefs ready to lead major school systems.