March 8, 2017

Where Are All The Female Superintendents?

By Bellwether

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From Randi Weingarten to Betsy DeVos, to Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson, some of the biggest names in education policy on both sides of the aisle are women. The majority of teachers (76 percent), too, identify as female. But new survey results from the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) show that about 77 percent of school superintendents identify as male. So while women make up the majority of the teacher workforce, they are vastly underrepresented in higher-paying leadership roles.
Today is International Women’s Day, and while these survey results show progress from previous years, there’s significant room to grow in closing the school leadership gender gap. This disparity reinforces gender wage gaps, and, as we’ve covered previously, this inequity of earnings follows female teachers into retirement.
It’s important to note that, while we can dig into these findings broadly, the AASA survey’s 15 percent response rate suggests it may not be fully representative. Additionally, while the federal government collects representative stats on teachers and principals, it does not do so on school district superintendents. Still, state-based work, like this October Houston Chronicle piece as well as a November Education Week article delve into these trends further, with similar findings.
Here are three takeaways on the state of female superintendents we can glean from the AASA’s 2016 survey:

  1. Females tend to enter leadership roles later, and with more experience, than their male counterparts.

AASA Age by Gender

2016 AASA Superintendent Salary & Benefits Study

The median age for female superintendents is 53, two years older than their male counterparts at 51. Despite dramatically outnumbering males in the teaching workforce, it takes women slightly longer to break into leadership, and they often enter the superintendent role with more work experience than men.

  1. Male superintendents out-earn their female counterparts in all but one tier of district sizes.

AASA Salary by Gender

2016 AASA Superintendent Salary & Benefits Study

In terms of median salary, men out-earn women in four out of five district bands – women pull ahead, and actually do especially well, in just one: districts serving 10,000 to 24,999 students. This group makes up only 6 percent of female superintendents, however, and the remaining 94 percent, depending on their district size, make on average about $2,100 less annually than their male peers.

  1. People of color are grossly underrepresented in the school leadership space. Women of color are far less likely to hold superintendent roles than their white counterparts.

2016 AASA Superintendent Salary & Benefits Study

2016 AASA Superintendent Salary & Benefits Study

School leaders of both genders are overwhelmingly white. As a whole, people of color make up just 8.1 percent of district superintendents. Men of color represent just 5.5 percent of school leaders, while women of color, just 10.8 percent.
Salary discrepancies add another layer to this, too. On average, women earn 80 cents for every dollar paid to their male peers. Women of color are especially harmed by the gender wage gap: for every dollar paid to white men, African American women earn only 63 cents, and Latinas only 54 cents. While the majority of superintendent roles, and the higher salaries that come with them, go to men, it’s crucial to point out the discrepancies women of color face.
Our country’s school leaders must work to be representative of the students they serve – it isn’t enough to recruit and retain more women without also ensuring we’re developing a truly diverse workforce.
This is not to say women haven’t made progress. In 2000, AASA’s same survey showed just 13.2 percent of superintendents identified as female, compared to today’s nearly 24 percent.  Even with a low response rate, these trends show growth year-over-year. Hiring incentives, mentoring programs, and school board guidance can all help further close the gap, but these interventions must become a priority.  While women may lead the classroom, too many are still shut out from the district.

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