Dissertation Spotlight: Understanding the Public Education Gender Gap Amid Administrators
Even though K-12 public schools are dominated by female teachers, there’s a disproportionate number of male administrators. In fact, women make up 76% of teachers but only 52% of principals. As an assistant principal of a middle school in Humble, Texas, Danielle Taylor, EdD, questioned this gender gap. While earning her Doctorate of Education from Concordia University-Portland, Taylor dug deeper, using this topic for her dissertation, “Understanding the Public Education Gender Gap Amid Secondary and Central Office Administrators.” She’s presented her research in several female leadership networking and collaborative settings so let’s see what she was able to uncover.
The gender gap widens in secondary schools
Taylor states that “despite advances in political movements and societal awareness, there is still an obvious gender discrepancy among U.S. public education secondary school and superintendent positions plaguing our nation.” She explains that the data indicates that while the majority of teaching positions are held by women, most school districts and campuses are led by men. Taylor cites societal bias, stereotypes and hiring practices to be the leading causes of this disparity. She notes that the aforementioned statistic regarding the gender makeup of teachers and principals includes all principals (elementary and secondary). At the secondary level, the percentage of female principals further decreases; the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that 58% of middle school principals are male and 42% are female. Furthermore, 70% of high school principals are male. Clearly, this gender gap needs to be addressed.
Examining the administrative gender gap in Houston, Texas
Taylor conducted an anonymous survey of current and aspiring leaders from three public schools in the Houston, Texas area. The survey was conducted over several months and included nearly 30 female education leaders. This represented approximately 40% of the recruitment group.
According to Taylor, her goal was to “survey women who have achieved success as a campus or central office leader and those who have the desire to be a campus leader at some point in their career.” The survey was designed to “offer insight into their experiences, beliefs, and perspectives and offer discernment into the possible causations of the existing gender gap…present in public education leadership.”
The survey, which was composed of 20 written reflection and Likert scale-formatted questions, sought to answer two main questions:
- How have women overcome challenges to achieve secondary leadership positions at the building and district level?
- How do female secondary campus and district leaders perceive themselves as leaders?
Results from Taylor’s survey
In the three school districts that participated in Taylor’s survey, 60% of the teachers are women in two of the three school districts and 63% of the teachers are women in the third participating school district. More than 80% of Taylor’s survey participants had at least 16 years of teaching experience.
Here’s an overview of Taylor’s survey results:
- The external barriers to women achieving success in school leadership included societal bias and stereotypes, hiring inequalities, gender gaps in other professions, role conflict, educational structure, and the lack of effective networking and mentoring.
- Internal barriers included: work-life balance pressures, lack of motivation, and perceived organizational effectiveness.
- “81% of the female leaders surveyed felt that women experience challenges that many of their male counterparts do not when obtaining leadership positions.”
- Roughly half of those respondents cited challenges they felt were gender-specific.
- Several survey participants themselves felt that men were better suited to leadership positions.
- One respondent wrote, “I believe that people struggle with the thought of a woman in leadership positions.”
- Another wrote, “Despite changes in societal expectations, women are still viewed as the primary caregivers and secondary education, particularly at the high school (level), requires many evenings and nights away from the family.”
- In answering Taylor’s question about how women in education perceive themselves as leaders, frequent responses included “inspiring, committed, fair, risk-taker, problem-solver, and flexible.”
- When asked whether they considered themselves good work-life balancers, 74% of the survey participants answered strongly agree or somewhat agree.
- More than 80% agreed, somewhat agreed, or strongly agreed that they pursue leadership opportunities.
- More than 69% answered that they strongly or somewhat agreed that they strategize career moves and changes.
When speaking about her work, Taylor sums it up by saying, “I found that female educational leadership positions (in terms of quantity) mirror much of society despite education being a field with a predominantly female population. Although there are still some societal and organizational factors that contribute to the misrepresentation, many females choose to not seek advancement positions due to personal choices.”
In analyzing the results, Taylor points out that “Although the women surveyed felt that they can balance the challenges of effective work and life balance, there are still sacrifices and trade-offs that women experience.” Gender-based obstacles are still evident in educational leadership positions and these challenges impact hiring and/or women’s confidence levels in administrative or district-level leadership positions. Taylor notes that when women do decide to become educational leaders, there is an “overall feeling of positive support” and they’re often willing to be strong mentors to other women.