Coming out of retirement to become a superintendent for a second time has given me pause to make some serious decisions on what I would no longer permit as acceptable behaviors of gender bias in my district, in the community, and from the staff and board members.
Having been a secondary teacher and administrator in primarily male-dominated areas of education for 35 years has made me very familiar with gender bias. As a teacher it was called sexual harassment; as an administrator it was not called anything because women understood the need to keep silent about the topic in order to keep their jobs.
In my career in large districts and small, in urban and rural districts, I have experienced gender bias and sexual harassment as a regular part of my job, especially as an administrator. And I am not proud that I mostly kept silent about my experiences, at least publicly.
When I decided to research experiences of gender bias of women superintendents in California, I wasn't sure what I would find. I admit I had to make sure my own experiences and "topic bias" were kept in check, because I thought I was the exception and not the rule in experiencing gender bias.
Follow-up of prior research yields surprises
My search for current research on gender bias in education found several resources that specifically addressed the topic. Catherine Herr Van Nostrand (1993) identified specific behaviors in each area that tended to be exhibited by men to exert male dominance in the workplace. These behaviors included lack of eye contact, touching, references to gender, degrading remarks, space encroachment, gender categorization, paternalism, disparaging remarks, interrupted speech and condescension.
Linda Skrla, Pedro Reyes and James Joseph Scheurich (2000) published an article, "Sexism, Silence, and Solutions: Women Superintendents Speak Up and Speak Out," which responded to the misconception that researchers know what affects sexism: "All of these theories, in our view, offered incomplete explanations for the continued under-representation of women in the public school superintendency." The questions for my survey and the follow-up interviews seeking more …