Despite Initiatives, There are Far More Male Superintendents Than Females

While females made up the majority of the education workforce, their male counterparts far exceed numbers in the role of superintendents.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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Women have been shattering glass ceilings for decades, but there’s still a long road ahead to receive equality in the workforce. In the field of education, women have made great strides. According to a report from the National School Superintendents Association, nearly three-quarters of all U.S. teachers are female. But despite this, just 13% of them are superintendents. 

Given the fact that women have dominated the school workforce, and that more females are succeeding in college over their male counterparts, the fact that so few women today hold administrative positions is troubling to many. This has long been a common theme in America, where men are found to hold the majority of top-ranking positions in any given field. But still, female educators are studying this, figuring out why it is occurring, and coming up with solutions to push more women into the jobs of superintendents. 

According to a report from the Deseret News, Utah is paving the way for this, with one of the top ratios for female to male superintendents. In this state, females already holding these administrative positions are hopeful that upward trends placing more women in principal and assistant superintendent positions will pave the way for more females in the position down the road. Other than the obvious goal, which is to achieve better equality among genders, educators believe it is important to place more females in the job because they offer a different perspective.

The big question on everyone’s mind is why the large superintendent gap persists, especially considering the fact that there are far more females in the field of education. There doesn’t appear to be one key reason, but many small ones that add up to this disparity instead. To start, it’s partially due to decades-old systemic gender roles.

Since men have long been the normal holder of these administrative jobs, new females entering the education workforce don’t have many female role models to look up to, which is said to make the situation worse. Lexi Cunningham, the executive director of the Utah School Superintendents Association, fears that this is holding women back from aspiring for the head job.

While it may not be as obvious, some existing female superintendents fear that the pandemic is partially to blame as well for deterring women from pursuing the job. According to a report from EdWeek, female superintendents reported increased instances where they felt they were specifically the target of unruly parents upset with COVID protocols, which they felt said led to heavily gendered bias. Sue Reike-Smith, a superintendent in Portland, Oregon, noted numerous instances when she was berated by male parents and overtly ridiculed for being a woman in the position of making executive decisions.


On top of all that, more obvious factors that often keep females from attaining similar high-ranking positions as men are said to be holding females back from becoming superintendents. Much of this is found in the hiring process when districts tend to account for at-home life factors when making the decision of who to hire. Today, women are still viewed as a liability for these top positions because of the fact that they may at some point have to take maternity leave, or time off to be the caregiver for family members. 

As for the solution of how to bring more females into superintendent roles, there is no clear answer. Instead, multiple, complex initiatives should be taken to entice and engage more females in the role. Better transparency for hiring processes is a start, but first encouraging and showing women that they will have the support and respect needed to run districts is needed.