Despite Progress, Women Superintendents Face Steep Path to Gender Parity
The portion of female superintendents leading the nation’s largest school districts has increased slightly in recent years, but men still lead the lions’ share, and women often face hurdles in taking on the role, new data show.
That men still lead about 70 percent of the nation’s 500 largest districts is particularly striking in a field where 77 percent of teachers are women, said Julia Rafal-Baer, the CEO of ILO Group, an education consulting firm that promotes women in leadership.
“As you look at the trend data, we are starting to see an uptick,” she said. “But overall, we continue to have a major crisis in our country. We believe this needs to be focused on with real intentionality.”
Lacking federal data on the demographics of district leaders, ILO Group collected data about the superintendents of the 500 largest school systems dating back to 2018. In July 2023, women led 152 of those districts, compared to 139 in 2018. The data suggest those large systems are slightly more female-led than districts nationally.
About 21 percent of those districts experienced a leadership turnover in the 2022-23 school year, in keeping with higher rates of superintendent departures during previous years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the analysis found.
The data also suggest that women often become superintendents after stepping up during tumultuous periods in their districts.
Of the women superintendents included in the data, 53 percent were internal candidates who were already working in the district before being selected for the job. And seven of 10 of those internal candidates were appointed on an interim basis before taking the position more permanently, the data showed.