Just Do It: Women Superintendents Speak to Aspiring Women

By Katz, Susan J. | Advancing Women in Leadership, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Just Do It: Women Superintendents Speak to Aspiring Women


Katz, Susan J., Advancing Women in Leadership


Abstract

A mixed method study using surveys and in-depth interviews was conducted with women school superintendents in four Midwestern states during the 1999-2000 school year to understand how they perceive their leadership skills and their uses of power in their positions, and also to understand how they generally talk about the job. Results of how the women perceived their leadership practices and uses of power have been reported elsewhere. The purpose of this paper is to reveal analysis of unexplored data from the interviews of nine women superintendents who gave rich descriptions of the various aspects of their work lives, particularly in the context of offering up advice to those women aspiring to the superintendency.

Background

At the 1999 Annual Meeting of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) in San Francisco, I walked into a session not knowing much about the topic: women school superintendents. The room was packed; mostly women and a few men were listening to two women school superintendents focusing their presentation on a telling of their work lives. What I remember most about their talk was that they seemed to truly enjoy their work, their enthusiasm was evident. Their purpose in providing a seminar for those who were intrigued enough to come to the session from a listing in the program agenda was to "convince" those women in attendance that this top job in education was truly "women's work." More women should take a risk and apply for the position as superintendent because women are natural managers, instructional leaders, and nurturers-all qualities needed in leading 21st century schools (the millennium was upon us). As I talked to people around me, I realized those attending the session were those in the pipeline for the position of superintendent. These women had positions as school principals, others had central office positions, and many were in graduate educational leadership programs, as I was at the time. At my table were a couple of female doctoral students who talked about their current research projects with women school superintendents. I had just finished doctoral coursework and was searching for a research topic. My background in schools began first as a speech and language clinician and then as a special education administrator. I had encountered gender discrimination when applying for administrative positions and so I knew firsthand about gender issues in school administration. Beginning a study with women school superintendents could bring my personal experiences from practice into a research agenda. My attendance at this particular ASCD session was my research beginning. Here is where I began my continuing quest to delve into the work lives of women school superintendents and in doing so I have been able to give voice to those women who exist as an underrepresented group in the superintendency. A greater body of research needs to be conducted with these women to learn how they access, maintain, and thrive in their positions. Skrla, Reyes, and Scheurich (2000) emphasized this when they called for the ". . . conversation among and about women superintendents to increase in numbers, to widen in scope, and to escalate in volume so that neither the women themselves nor the education profession in general continue to remain silent" (p. 71). Through my research and writing, I hope that women currently in the pipeline for the position will "hear" how women are truly enjoying their roles as superintendents and those aspiring women will be prompted to pursue the position even more seriously.

In 1999-2000, I conducted mixed method research with women who were practicing school superintendents in four Midwestern states, n = 210. The purpose of my research was to generally add to the existing body of literature, particularly looking at women's work lives as superintendents through an investigation of their leadership practices and uses of power. Surveys consisted of demographic questions and two published inventories: the Leadership Practices Inventory-Self (Kouzes & Posner, 1995) and Your Sources of Influence (Rosner, 1990),which asked questions regarding how those in powerful roles perceived their of uses of power. …

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