through a collective, cohesive effort will the plight of females
vying for top administrative positions in the school system improve.
There are current
inequalities in the representation of females in higher administrative
positions in public schools that are a product of historical and
societal patterns. These patterns have determined the constraints
women have faced and continue to face when they attempt to enter
public school administration. Women represent the majority in the
teaching profession and in school administration graduate programs,
but are persistently absent from the highest and most powerful
administrative positions in public education (Shakeshaft, 1999).
The top three administrative posts in public school education (superintendent,
assistant superintendent, and high school principal) remain overwhelmingly
filled by males (Keller, 1999). According to Mary Hatwood Futurell,
former President of the National Education Association, in 2002
only 12 percent of the superintendents are women and just five
percent are minorities (AAUW, 2002). This astounding figure is
approximately the same as was reported at the turn of the last
The overall percentage of women who represent leadership positions
is miniscule as it is. Thus, the meager percentage represented
by women of color demonstrates how severely underrepresented women
of other racial and/or ethnic groups are in public school administration
(Gupton & Slick, 1995). A report published by the National
Center for Education Statistics details this critical point. In
the year 2000, 44% of all principals in the public schools were
women. Of the total number of principals represented, only ten
percent were African American and four percent identified themselves
as Hispanic (NCES, 2002). With the the United States Census (2000)
reporting 12.9% of the total U.S. population identifying themselves
as as Black/African African American, and 12.5% identifying themselves
as being of Hispanic origin, a greater reprensentation of minority
administrators is needed in the public schools to equate with the
demographic population in the country.
In Coloring Outside the Lines, Mentoring Women into School Leadeship,
Gardiner, Enomoto, and Grogan (2000) proclaim that the overriding
culture in educational administration is androcentric, meaning
it is being dominated with norms defined as white and male. They
also assert that although women have gained entry into educational
administration, they are still viewed differently. The patriarchal
values of white males still permeates throughout public school
administration despite the gains women and minorities have made
in recent years. When analyzing corporate positions, Davies-Netzley
(1998) report that women continue to cluster near the bottom of
corporate organizational charts and endure lower earnings and authority,
and have less advancement potential in comparison with men. Within
gains that have been made, white women have made greater gains
in achieveing uppermanagement and professional positions in comparison
to women of color (Davies-Netzley, 1998).
Grogan (1996) conducted a study centering on women aspiring to
the superintendency in kindergarten - grade 12 public school systems.
Her study yielded five significant findings. First, it was revealed
that there are alternative approaches to the traditional style
of leadership. These alternative approaches are a necessity in
light of the diversity educators are faced with which makes it
a necessity to "approach administration from a relational,
interpersonal standpoint" (Grogan, 1996, p. 176). Feminist
inquiry scholarship proposes for the "re-vision of a leader
as one who is a facilitator, a catalyst, or a member of a group
that together works for social change" (Grogan, 1996, p. 176).
Second, Grogan revealed that the "personal and professional
lives of the women who particpated in the study were inextricably
intertwined" and the "white, gendered nature of the k
- 12 educational administration emerged vividly" (Grogan,
1996, p.8). Third, the women in the study felt they were viewed
as women first and administrators second causing their gender to
always be a factor in their superintendency preparation. Fourth,
Grogan developed a greater understanding of the personal and professional
factors that contributed to the paths taken by the particpants.
Some were prepared and ready for the position professionally, but
not personally. Mothering, partnering and homemaking were contributing
factors. Finally, it was revealed that the particpants resisted
discourging outlooks by keeping focused on their aspirations when
faced with difficulties.
Women have incorporated many strategies to assist them in remaining
focused while entrenched in patriarchal systems. Among them are
attaining advanced degrees and credentials, establishing informal
and formal networks with other women, and reconciling work and
home responsibilities (Davies-Netzley, 1998). Gupton and Slick
(1996), in Highly Successful Women Administrators: The Inside Stories
of How They Got There, cite many lessons of success stemming from
their study of female public school administrators. The lessons
include being prepared, career planning, persevering, being diligent
and professional, honoring, perserving and protecting integrity,
reaching out to and through others, mentoring, and leading by example.
Mentoring and sponsoring has been referenced by many in literature
as a strategy for career advancement. Effective mentoring has been
described as communicating and connecting on an emotional level
with the mentee while assisting with the physical, emotional and
logistcal aspects of school leadership (Gardiner, Enomoto, &
Grogan, 2000). In a study of thirty-eight African American female
school administrators, mentors and sponsors were revealed as playing
important roles in their career success (Allen, K., Jacobson, S.,
& Lomotey, K., 1995). Respondents in the study, who had a mentor
during the early stages of their, career acknowledged they received
encouragement and moral support which led to higher levels of effort
and expectations. This study defined mentors as those who help
motivate others in achieving goals, and sponsors were defined as
those who enable others to attain goals (Allen, K., Jacobson, S.,
& Lomotey, K., 1995). The participants in the study viewed
sponsorship as the most critical compopnent in relationships for
aspiring African American women administrators.
In a study focusing on the relationship between social support
and stress as differentially experienced by African American women,
white women, and white men both within and outside the workplace,
Baliey, Wolfe, & Wolf (1996) revealed that whereas social support
was important for all groups studied, it was particularly important
for African American women to develop sources of social support
at home and at work. The job support assisted white men and women
in the study reduce depression and strain, but did not for African
American women. The same held true for home support for the particpants
in the study.
Gardiner, Enomoto, and Grogan (2000) conducted a study consisting
of eighteen women, of whom fourteen were African American and four
were Hispanic. The participants revealed six needs of women of
color who seek to move into educational administration. Four of
the identified needs focused on mentoring and support. First, they
expressed a need to understand the political dynamics of public
schools and to develop the skills to succeed as both women and
minorities. Second, they wished to gain access into networks within
and outside the school system. Third, they desired mentors who
were similar to themselves. Fourth, because of the few women of
color in positions of power, they also sought mentoring from those
who were different from themselves. Fifth, they expressed a need
for more than one mentor with at least one being female and one
being a person of color. Lastly, they saw a need for alternative
support systems beyond the formal and informal mentoring established
in educational organizations.
was analyzed using a feminist approach. Gardiner, Enomoto &
Grogran, (2000) stressed the importance of a feminist orientation:
(A feminist orientation is important for the) validation of multiple
and diverse perspectives to
. beliefs and
values, and for the pedagogical opportunities to help one to consider
the viewpoints of other individuals. Women learn from other women's
voices and experiences.
perspective in educational administration has been androcentric
or male-biased.The contradictions arising from this bias are best
exposed by utilizing (a) feminist (approach).
orientation values women's experiences as the focus of attention.
For this study, it is imperative that the chosen analytic approach
give voice to the realities of the female experience. M. K. Tetreault
(1985) identified the common ways (phases) of thinking about women
as reflected in scholarship. The first is male scholarship, which
sees the male experience as universal. The second, compensatory
scholarship, entails a consciousness that women are missing, but
males are still perceived as the norm and representative of all
thought. The third phase is bifocal scholarship, which emphasizes
the differences between women and men. Phase four, feminist scholarship,
emphasizes women's activities as the most valued measure. The final
phase, multifocal or relational scholarship, analyzes how women
and men relate to and complement one another. Feminist scholarship
assists in developing an appreciation of the differences among
African American, Hispanic, and white female public school administrators
in relation to the barriers they perceive in hindering their climb
up the ladder and their strategies for success. It "pursues
new questions, new categories, and new notions of significance
which illuminate women's traditions, history, culture, values,
visions, and perspectives" by allowing the women's experience
"to speak for itself." (Tetreault, M. K. T., 1985, p.
Objectives of the Study
This study examined a sample of female administrators serving in
higher administrative ranks in the public school system to determine
any similarities or differences between African American, Hispanic
and white females in three areas: 1) the perception of barriers
to career advancement, 2) the perceived effects of barriers to
career advancement and 3) the strategies utilized to overcome barriers
to career advancement.
This study also gathered data on the personal and professional
characteristics of the respondents in order to provide a composite
picture and to analyze any significant differences.
Research Design and Methodology
The method of data collection was a survey questionnaire consisting
of 49 items and a section for voluntary narrative responses. The
population for the study was defined as full-time female administrators
employed either as principals, directors or superintendents (region,
assistant, associate or deputy) in a large, diverse urban public
school system. Of the 260 female administrators identified in the
specified positions, 175 returned surveys. This yielded a total
return rate of 67.31%. The population consisted of 104 elementary
school principals, 14 middle school principals, three senior high
school principals, 15 directors, three assistant superintendents,
one deputy superintendent, and 16 other non-school site higher
level administrators. The findings were based on the comprehensive
information of all questionnaires received from these respondents.
classification of the respondents were evenly distributed among
white (32%), African American (33%), and Hispanic (35%). When analyzing
the personal characteristics of the respondents, 62% were married,
while 15% were single and 20% were divorced. Fifty-seven percent
did not have any children living at home. A majority of the Hispanic
females (75%) and a majority of the white females (68%) were married.
The African American females reported being divorced at a higher
level (38%) than the others with only 46% of them reported being
In further analysis of demographic information, the number of children
living at home proved statistically significant. A majority of
the white female administrators (71%) and a majority of the African
American female administrators (60%) did not have any children
living at home. However, with the Hispanic female administrators,
60% had one or more children living at home.
African American Females
The African American female administrators showed a significant
difference with the number of years teaching prior to being appointed
as an administrator. They had a greater number of years as a teacher
with an average of 15.13 years. This indicates they have more instructional
experience and it correlates with their perception of barriers
hindering their initial placement into administrative positions.
African American female administrators perceived the lack of a professional
network as more of a barrier to their career advancement than the
other respondents. Along with that perception, more African American
female administrators also felt they were excluded from the informal
socialization process into the profession (i.e., the "Good
Old Boy Network") in comparison to Hispanic and white females.
Lastly, African American female adminstrators perceived that they
needed more training in order to be competitive with other administrators
in comparison to the other respondents in the study. In fact, in
response to the 17 barriers to career advancement listed on the
questionnaire, African American female administrators answered with
a higher mean score on 14 (see Table
Sixty percent of the Hispanic female administrators indicated they
have children living at home and a majority reported being married.
These characteristics underscore how important the role of the
family is in the professional and personal lives of Hispanic women
in the study. In addition, Hispanic female administrators perceived
the barrier, conflicts between the roles of wife/mother and career
women, as more of a hindrance than the other female administrators.
Also, Hispanic female administrators perceived their careers as
being delayed due to family responsibility more than African American
female administrators. They reported interruption in their careers
more often than white female administrators. This is more likely
due to the focus on family responsibilities. Maintaining career
aspirations and managing personal lives is a challenge faced by
many female administrators (Grogan, 1996). One Hispanic female
administrator wrote in the voluntary narrative portion of the study,
"I feel that I have not been recognized professionally because
I dedicate nights and weekends to my family." Another Hispanic
female administrator wrote, "I do not seek job choices large
distances from my home in order to avoid drive time that would
take away from either my family or work."
Hispanic female administrators also appeared to possess more confidence
in their careers. An overwhelming 94% of the Hispanic female administrators
rated themselves professionally as being very successful. Only
78% of the African American and white respondents rated themselves
professionally as very successful.
When analyzing strategies utilized to overcome the perceived barriers,
Hispanic higher-level female administrators were more likely to
1) seek advanced training (84%); 2) become assertive in pursuing
career goals (62%); 3) become professionally visible (74%); and
4) improve their professional image (82%). In fact, Hispanic female
administrators rated themselves more highly successful when using
strategies to overcome barriers when answering seven of the ten
questions on strategies. It became apparent that Hispanic female
administrators in the study perceived themselves as being successful
in achieving what the white and African American female administrators
were still finding troublesome: assertively utilizing available
resources to enhance their careers (see Table
American female respondent wrote the following in the voluntary
narrative portion of the questionnaire: "Black females have
even more barriers, based on the number of Black females in top
adminstrative positions. The effects of the perceived barriers
is reflected in the limited number of Black females filling top
level adminstrative positions." Another volunteered this statement:
"It is my opinion that competency, integrity, loyality and
leadership are not components recognized for higher achievement
in this school district." Yet another African American female
adminstrator stated, "Minority applicants usually start at
the more challenging schools, whereas, all others have the full
range of available positions that are only accessable to non-Black
African American females also showed a significant difference when
answering the questions on the effects of the barriers to career
advancement. They felt they were excluded from informal networks
more than white or Hispanic female adminstrators. This barrier
effect showed the largest significant difference among groups than
any of the questions on the survey. When answering the question
regarding problems finding a balance between feminine identity
and professionalism as a barrier effect, African American female
administrators felt that it was more of a difficulty.
The white female administrators did not score significantly higher
on any of the barrier questions to career advancement as compared
to the others. Of the eight respondents who wrote in the voluntary
narrative portion that they had not experienced any barriers to
their career advancement, six were white. An example is a white
female administrator who wrote, " I believe my particular
survey will not help you much. I have never encountered most of
the things you have mentioned here. Maybe I was just lucky."
The only area in which white female adminstrators showed a significant
difference from African American and Hispanic female administrators
was in the section regarding the perceived effects of the barriers.
White female administrators perceived that they were denied access
to power groups that make important decisions more than Hispanic
female administrators. This correlates with much of the research
on the exclusion of females in general from top adminstrative positons
(Gupton and Slick, 1995; Whitaker & Lane, 1990).
Although white female administrators in this study did not show
significance with the barriers in comparison to African American
and Hispanic female administrators, there is still a glass ceiling
hindering the level they are allowed to reach. One white female
administrator wrote the following in the voluntary narrative portion
of the questionnaire:
"Within the public school system, there is a definitive lack
of women in top roles. This is a result of many males at these
levels whom I believe are afraid to allow women into the ranks
- expecially competent, strong, bright women who speak their minds,
as opposed to learn their place."
Another white female adminstrator stated, "The old-boy network
is alive and strong."
An area of concern voiced by a few white female higher-level administrators
is the race/ethnicity issue. A white female adminstrator stated,
"The ethnic/cultural barrier is a greater obstacle now than
gender. Gender is not the greatest concern verbalized by female
adminstrators now." A few of the other narrative responses
from white female higher-level adminstrators who viewed race/ethnicity
as a concern were: "The biggest barriers to my becoming principal
were my ethnicity and lack of visibility to those who make decisions."
Also, "Once you understand they don't desire intelligent,
thoughtful, competent people - especially Anglo females - then
you're okay." Lastly, "Your data (questions) did not
the influence of race/ethnicity in decisions,
Summary of Findings
This study provided extensive information on three identified areas
of inquiry. The first area of inquiry explored the differences
among African American, Hispanic, and white female public school
administrators on the perception of barriers to career advancement.
It was revealed that African American female administrators in
the study perceived more barriers as hindering their career ascension
in comparison to Hispanic and white respondents. They answered
with a higher mean score on 14 of the 17 areas identified as barriers.
The significant areas were the following: the perception that they
had lack of access to professional networks, the perception that
they were excluded from the informal socialization process, and
the perception that they needed more training in order to be competitive.
The Hispanic female public school administrators scored significantly
in the area of conflicts between the role of wife and career. A
majority of the identified areas of significance concerning Hispanic
females centered on the family and personal life.
The second area of inquiry centered on the differences among African
American, Hispanic, and white female public school administrators
on the perceived effects of barriers to career advancement. African
American respondents scored significantly in the areas of being
excluded from the informal network and having problems balancing
femininity and professionalism. Hispanic female public school administrators
scored significantly in the areas of having an interruption of
their career and having their careers delayed career due to family
responsibilities. The only area in which the white female respondents
scored significantly was the area of being denied access to power
groups as an effect of the barriers to career advancement.
The final area of inquiry referred to the strategies the respondents
utilized to overcome barriers to career advancement. The Hispanic
female respondents scored significantly in two areas: improving
their professional image and becoming professionally visible. The
paucity of strategies showing significance among the female study
participants indicates a need for an improved, concerted effort
focusing on giving alternative options to assist in advancement
This research study provided available information on the major
barriers to career advancement facing African American, Hispanic
and white higher-level female administrators in a large diverse
urban public school system. The results of the study added to the
accumulating body of research on female administrators and the
factors that create barriers to their full participation in educational
administration. A feminist orientation of analysis allows for the
conclusion that barriers identified as significant provide strong
evidence of the persistence of discriminatory practices that limit
the representation of all female leaders, particularly those of
To assist in the elimination of barriers, women of all races and
ethnicities should take the initiative in counteracting the stereotypic
attitudes regarding their roles in educational administration.
An important advancement in that direction is the formulation of
mentoring and support groups among those represented in this study
as well as those not represented. The male administrators have
mastered the informal network and actively practice its advantageous
strategies. As cited earlier, a study by Bailey, Wolfe, & Wolf
(1996) revealed that social support was particularly important
for African American women. A female administrator wrote the following
in the voluntary narrative portion of the questionnaire: "The
barrier presenting the most obstacles to me has been the "boys
club" mentality of upper administrators. Only the chosen "guys"
get the jobs, and the top jobs go by direct appointment
the interview process." Women have yet to fully participate
in the beneficial tactics employed by male administrators. As another
female administrator wrote in the questionnaire, "Women do
not necessarily support other women. Men are more supportive of
other men." Yet another female administrator stated, "Females
are sometimes their own worst enemies. In their quest for success,
they are not willing to share their knowledge. In addition, rather
than admit that they don't know a policy or procedure, they become
defensive and aggressive toward other females." Yet another
female administrator summed up the barriers faced by women administrators
by writing, "Often, women are more of a barrier to other women
getting advancement." Only through a collective, cohesive
effort will the plight of females vying for top administrative
positions in the school system improve. As reported in the Glass
Ceiling Commission Study sponsored by the Department of Labor (1995),
women who obtained top positions attribute their success principally
to individual effort and performance. The findings support the
results of an earlier study by Elman and Gilbert (1984). They investigated
how 97 women in dual-career families with preschool children manage
typical conflicts between their professional and parental roles.
Two coping strategies, increased role behavior and cognitive restructuring
were the most utilized strategies. Increased role behavior involved
efforts by the participants to "do it all," by working
harder and more efficiently. Cognitive restructuring and personal
role redefinition involved thinking about the situation differently
and altering personal role conceptions. It was concluded that the
women in the study most typically used coping strategies in which
the responsibility for conflict reduction remained with the individual.
This correlates with the results of the present study in that a
majority of the respondents reported never utilizing a "new
girl network," which is the female version of the male "good
old boy network." Support systems are a must considering that
many times shared success is more gratifying than individualized
accomplishments. Such networks will allow female administrators
to form a collective voice to counteract the present status quo
of male dominated power.
It is the responsibility of local school boards to become aware
of the inequities that exist in hiring and employment practices.
School boards and districts carry the responsibility to investigate
the extent to which women of various racial and ethnic backgrounds
are represented in the upper-administrative staff and closely examine
their hiring/promotion practices and procedures in order to achieve
equity. Women are well represented among elementary school principals.
An effort must be made to equalize their representation in the
senior high principalships and superintendencies (region, associate,
assistant, and deputy, etc.). School boards must be diligent about
maintaining equitable work environments and leadership opportunities
for all employees. When social justice and equity are modeled by
the school leadership on a consistent basis, the potential exists
not only to enrich the professional opportunities for female leaders,
but, more importantly, to enrich learning opportunities for the
children that are served. (Tillman, B. A. & Cochran, L. L.
Professional and Personal Responsibilities
It is advantageous for female administrators to strive to give
equal energy to both the professional and personal arenas. In a
study of women aspiring to the superintendency, Grogan (1996) outlined
several areas expressed by the participants as causing tension.
Fear of failing as a mother, responsibility for maintenance of
relationships, and coping with household labor (partnering, mothering,
and homemaking) were the areas cited. Grogan concluded that the
women in the study moved "back and forth between the different
discourses, professional and personal, never at any time able or
willing to abandon completely the practices that have constituted
her as partner, mother, or homemaker" (Grogan, 1996, p. 110).
Maintaining personal support systems (family, friends, informal
groups) places women at equal advantage with males by allowing
them to benefit from the very networks that assist males in advancing.
Of the 156 female administrators who responded to the questionnaire,
only 12 (8%) had doctoral degrees. In order to be competitive with
males, more females must obtain higher educational degrees. Education
beyond the masters and specialist levels could assist female administrators
in obtaining the knowledge, skills, and credentials necessary to
overcome many of the barriers they perceive in hindering career
advancement. As stated by Davies-Netzley (1998, p. 348), "Earning
advanced degrees and credentials (higher than those of most men)
appears to be a way that women compete with men for elite positions."
It is imperative that university preparation programs in teacher
education, educational administration, and related areas address
issues of race, ethnicity, and gender in more authentic ways than
in the past (Tillman & Cochran, 2000). Strategies that would
contribute to gender, racial, and ethnic equity in public school
administration include recruiting and retaining diverse faculty,
diversity training, offering courses focusing on gender, race,
and ethnicity issues in leadership, and promoting a greater understanding
of the alternative styles of leadership women offer. Lastly, providing
high quality field experiences in urban schools could result in
greater sensitivity to diversity on the part of those preparing
to teach and lead children in today's schools (Tillman & Cochran,
Albino (1992) summarizes the status of women in educational leadership
by stating, "Conventional wisdom says women are at a disadvantage
in moving ahead in management. We
.. have not been
playing the game as long. The fact is, there are many different
ways to win; it all depends on how you play the cards you've been
dealt. And you don't need dirty tricks; you just need to know the
rules of the game."
Albino, J. E. (1992). Women as leaders: The dirty word they must
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women in educational
administration: The importance of mentors and sponsors. The Journal
of Negro Education, 64(4), 409-422.
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Bailey, D., Wolf, C. R., & Wolf, W. (1996). The contextual
impact of social support
across race and gender: Implications for African American women
in the workplace. Journal of Black Studies, 26(3), 287-307.
Davies-Netzley, S. A. (1998). Women above the glass ceiling: Perceptions
mobility and strategies for success. Gender and Society, 12(3),
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role conflict in married
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Gardiner, M. E., Enomoto, E., & Grogan , M. (2000). Coloring
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Grogan, M. (1996). Voices of Women Aspiring to the Superintendency.
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Keller, B. (1999, November). Women superintendents: Few and far
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school administration: A
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Urban Society, 33(1), 44-59.
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Dr. Marie Byrd-Blake is Assistant Professor in the Department of Leadership, University of Memphis.