A Study of the Career Paths of Female Aspiring School Superintendents

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Virginia Tech


A disproportionality exists between the percentage of females in the role of public school superintendent and the percentage of female public school teachers. The National Center for Education Statistics (2020) survey indicated that 76.5% of the public school teachers were female; while AASA (2015) survey of superintendents indicated that only 26.9% of the respondents were female in 2015 and 26.7% were female in 2020 (Domenech, 2020). The Virginia Department of Education (2019) reported that at the start of the 2019-2020 school year in Virginia, 34% of the superintendents were female which is disproportionate to the percentage of females who are teaching.

This research study compared the career paths of female participants of the Virginia Tech Aspiring Superintendents Program and the decisions they made about their career advancement in public education. Additionally, the study gathered data regarding the factors that influenced the career decisions of the participants. A researcher-designed survey was utilized to gather initial data, and interviews using a protocol adapted from Catlett's 2017 study were conducted with volunteer participants from each of the groups that emerged: superintendents, aspiring superintendents and non-aspiring superintendents. The study participants were females who completed the Virginia Tech Aspiring Superintendents Program (ASP) from 2011-2019.

The findings of the study suggest the following: female educational leaders have pursued advanced degrees to advance their career paths; participants followed a typical progression of career positions; participants viewed their career paths as supportive and have purposely sought a variety of positions to gain experience in different roles of education; study participants described people-centered traits to be important in order to create a supportive working environment; participants were influenced by an educational leader or mentor to pursue leadership positions; discriminatory actions and perceptions about female administrators are barriers preventing women from becoming superintendents; family or a woman's role in the family is a personal challenge that faces women who are seeking leadership roles in education; and participants indicated that male and female leaders are viewed differently, and strong female leaders are viewed in a negative way while strong male leaders are viewed positively.



educational leadership, female, superintendent, perceptions, Gender, Virginia