Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Effort Aims to Get More Women Into Superintendents’ Jobs
Barbara Jenkins, a former superintendent of Florida’s Orange County district, will lead a project to boost the number of women running school systems—a figure that has remained stubbornly low even though the workforce is predominantly female.
Jenkins, Orange County’s first female superintendent, who left this summer, said the Women in Leadership Initiative at Chiefs for Change, a bipartisan organization that focuses on education leadership at the state and district levels, aims to help prospective female superintendents land the job and stay in them.
“Historically, we believe that there have been women who are capable of doing the work, who in some instances haven’t been given an opportunity to do the work,” Jenkins said. “We would like to see them given the same fair chance as others. It’s no different than in other sectors. There are still gender inequities and gender bias that we deal with as women in this country—whether it’s pay inequities or position inequities. I think we have to face that realistically in order to do something about it.”
Women account for the majority of teachers, principals, and central office staff, but only about a quarter of superintendents are women. Gains made before the pandemic seem in eroding, said Jenkins, who led 206,000-student Orange County for a decade before stepping down this year.
A recent study by the ILO Group, a women-owned organization that advises school districts, found women were not landing as many of the top district leadership spots during the pandemic as their male counterparts. In a look at the top 500 districts that announced in 2021 they’d be getting new superintendents, ILO found that men were selected in 16 of the 17 cases where the positions were filled.
“There is something out of balance if it’s OK for women to be the majority of the teachers, and for women to be a good percentage of the principals, and [have some representation] at the district leadership level, and then when you get to that final step there seems to be a glass ceiling that’s keeping women out,” Jenkins said.