When it comes to gender representation among superintendents, geography plays a role: While women hold 43% of superintendent positions in the Northeast, only 24% of superintendents are women in the Southeast. By comparison, women hold 31% of spots in the Midwest and 26% in the West, according to a report released by the ILO group, a women-founded national education strategy and policy firm.
The report also found a persistent gender pay gap at the state superintendent level. While a majority — 27 out of 51 — of state superintendents are female, they earn on average 12% less than their male counterparts.
Elected state superintendents, 73% of whom are female, make 40% less than their appointed counterparts. And even among elected state superintendents, women earn an average 26% less than men.
The analysis builds on a January report from the same group that predicted historic turnover among the nation's superintendents. Of the 154 districts that had already transitioned to new leadership during the pandemic, 70% of the new superintendents were men, that report found.
It also showed that of the 51 female superintendents who left during the pandemic, 39 — or 76% — were replaced by men.
Even before the pandemic, less than a third of superintendents nationwide were women, according to a 2019 report from Chiefs for Change. This was despite women making up three-quarters of the teacher workforce, comprising more than half of principals and filling a majority of district cabinet-level administrative positions, the report found.
That difference was more pronounced for women of color, with that group filling only 11% of superintendent positions, the Chiefs for Change report said.
Now, despite major overhauls in district leadership during the pandemic, inequities persist.
"We continue to see a historically low number of women serving in K-12 leadership positions despite the enormous pool of talented women leaders," said Julia Rafal-Baer, ILO co-founder and managing partner, in a news release. "These latest data make clear that there's still a tremendous amount of work left to do to ensure equity in districts' hiring practices and parity when it comes to superintendents' pay."
The ILO report suggests that districts take specific steps to address the problem:
- Prioritize gender equity during the recruitment and selection process.
- Publicize and make transparent goals for hiring, and hold search firms and school boards to these priorities.
- Support and encourage systems that would lead to increased female leadership, including coaching and sponsors, which the report describes as "superiors who take a hands-on role in managing career moves and promoting executives."