The state of Washington provides a model for many
states where female participation in the superintendency remains
at much lower levels. But what kind of model is it?
- In 1997, the states with the highest percentage of women school
superintendents included Delaware (26%), Nevada (24%), California
(23%), Arizona (22%) and Rhode Island (22%) (Association of California
School Administrators, 1997). Ranked tenth with 16% (a figure
which by Fall, 1997 had slipped to 14%) was Washington state.
- Washington prides itself on being at the forefront of providing
leadership opportunities for women school administrators. It does,
in fact, rank above 40 other states in that area. And if we consider
the salaries of men and women who head comparably sized school
districts, women seem to fare as well or better than men. For
example, in districts that serve between 1,000 and 2,000 students
the man superintendent salary is $76,568. Several women superintendents
make 4 to 6% more than the average. In the largest districts where
salaries exceed $100,000 or more; 13% (7) of all women superintendents
fall within the same pay category.
- The only possible exceptions to these pay differences seem to
arise in very small districts where fewer than 200 students are
enrolled. (Washington has districts that serve as few as 10 students.)
Some of these districts share superintendents or use part-time
and uncertified personnel to fill the superintendent's role. While
state averages suggest that the mean salary for this group hovers
around $54,000, salaries for women superintendents in these districts
vary widely - with a ten-student district paying its part-time,
uncertified superintendent $400 per month, a district with 40
students paying its superintendent $48,000 a year, and one that
serves 60 students offering an annual salary of $28,300 1(Winter,
1997). In each instance, confounding variables such as district
size, location, the tenure of the position, and other duties assigned
to the superintendent make viable wage equity comparisons impossible.
- The more telling story may lie in the participation rates of
Washington women in school-related labor markets. This paper briefly
outlines the basic tenets of occupational segregation and then
examines Washington school labor markets, paying particular attention
to where and in what proportions women participates. Lastly, it
questions, based on the state of Washington's track record, whether
leadership roles in school districts remain male bastions or offer
equal opportunities for women.
- Occupational Segregation
- Gender-based workplace segregation occurs when women's work
can be clearly distinguished form men's occupations and when concentrations
of men and women appear at different levels in workplace hierarchies
(Reskin, 1997). This latter form of job participation difference
is often called vertical segregation (Blau & Ferber, 1992).
Occupation segregation b gender constitutes a major social problem
for working women . Full-time working women earn less than three-quarters
of what full-time working men earn, and at least 40% of this wage
gap is due to women's concentration is lesser paying jobs (West
& Zimmerman, 1987; Williams, 1995). Interestingly, even though
participation in the workplace by women has steadily increased
and we have a history of political and legislative action designed
to eliminate (or at least ease) such inequities, gender differences
in occupations remain constant (Goldin, 1990).
- In 1989, 44% of women worked in five professions that are over
80% female - dietitian, librarian, nurse, pre-kindergarten/kindergarten
teacher, and elementary teacher (Blau & Ferber, 1992). In
1990, women comprised 99.1% of all secretaries, 94.5% of all registered
nurses, 97% of the country's child care workers, and almost 75%
of all teachers (excluding colleges and universities). In contrast,
only 9.5% of dentists, 8% of engineers, 21% of lawyers and judges,
and less than 20% of all physicians were women (Rothenburg, 1992).
Today, about 46% of the labor force is made up of women, yet only
about 10% of all women workers are in management; many of these
are in mid-level positions from which there is little chance of
promotion (Kelly, 1991; Dunn, 1997). In fact, most studies indicate
that women hold fewer than 5% of senior managerial and executive
positions in large corporate organizations (Federal Glass Ceiling
Commission, 1995; Dunn, 1997).
- The Washington State School System
- Seventy percent of Washington's 296 independent, public school
districts serve fewer than 2,000 students each. Fourteen of its
superintendents who are located in some of the state's most isolated
districts are each responsible for seven to 100 students (10 of
these superintendents are women). In districts with fewer than
250 students, superintendents either take the helm at multiple
districts (13 districts share superintendents - one superintendent
has three districts, five superintendents have two districts -
all are men) or carry dual superintendent-principal responsibilities.
- In the very small districts, the superintendent may be the teacher
as well. Districts with 250 to 600 students typically have a superintendent
and one or two building principals. As enrollment tops 600, part-time
directors of special education and sometimes vocational education
are added. At 2,000 students these positions become full-time,
and the administrative structure expands to include one or more
assistant superintendents (Winter, 1997)
- Washington State's Occupational Hierarchy
- Of the state's 289 school superintendents, 42 or 14% are women
(Strozyk, 1997). By district size, 43% (18 in number) of all female
superintendents work in districts with 10 t 245 students. Another
21% (9) serve in districts ranging in size from 751 to 1,799 students.
Fourteen percent (6) are located in districts with 2,000 to 4,999
students; 7% (3) are in districts of 5,000 to 9,000; 10% (4) work
in districts of 10,000 to 14,000; and 5% (2) run districts with
18,000 students or more (Winter, 1997) (Table
- If we consider female participation in the state's education
job market as a whole, the picture becomes even clearer. 2 Women
in the state of Washington fill 98% of all office and clerical
positions in schools and provide schools with 93% of their aides.
Eighty-one percent of all elementary school teachers are women;
52% of elementary school vice-principals and 51% of the elementary
school principal slots are occupied by women. At the secondary
school level, female participation decreases. Less than one-half
(48%) of high school teachers are women, and they fill only 37%
of the vice-principal and 28% of the principal positions.
- At the district level, across the state, 52% of central administrators
(other than assistant superintendents and superintendents) are
women. At higher district administrative levels, female participation
again decreases. Only 35% of the assistant superintendents and
fewer than 15% of all school superintendents are women (Strozyk,
1997) (Table 2).
- Whether we consider only the population of women superintendents
in the state or we look at the education job market in its entirety,
an occupational hierarchy exists in Washington. In the first instance,
we see that the majority of female superintendents (64%) are clustered
in districts serving fewer than 1,800 students. Indeed, ten of
the state's fourteen smallest districts have women in charge.
Not only do these women have significantly different job descriptions
and responsibilities from those who oversee large districts, they
are relegated to the lower end of the superintendency pay scale.
- Likewise, it is readily apparent when we examine the education
job market as a whole that the rate of participation of women
diminishes the higher up the occupational hierarchy we move. Proportionately,
fewer women stand on the top rungs o the managerial ladder than
on the bottom.
- Further, large concentrations of women, to the almost virtual
exclusion of men, are found in job types that are traditionally
described as feminine - office, clerical, aides, and elementary
teachers. Fewer than 2% of all clerical positions are filled by
men, no more than 7% of school aides are men, and less than 20%
of elementary school teachers are male. In contrast, men occupy,
in far greater proportions, work categories historically classified
as men's work - that of leadership and management. Eighty-six
percent of all school superintendents, 65% of the assistant superintendents,
72% of the principals and 63% of vice principals in secondary
schools, and almost half of the elementary school principals and
vice principals in Washington are men.
- Lessons Learned
- Men still control the vast majority of key leadership positions.
The state of Washington provides a model for many states where
female participation in the superintendency remains at much lower
levels. But what kind of model is it? Obviously, men still control
the vast majority of key leadership positions in the state's schools
and districts. And, even in the nine states where greater proportions
of women fill school superintendencies, nowhere does the proportion
mirror the overall levels of female participation in the education
- Being tenth in a snail race doesn't give you the right to boast.
While Washington is in the top ten states with the highest percentage
of women school superintendents, let's not forget that the number
one achiever is only at 26%. Is that really anything to brag about?
- Schools appear to be no more progressive than corporate America.
Less than 15% of Washington's superintendents are women, and the
majority of these serve relatively small districts.
- Women's work is still women's work. The vast majority of women
working in Washington schools hold clerical, aide, or elementary
- When women do "men's" work, they do it disproportionately
I less desirable locations, with expanded responsibilities, with
fewer support staff, and for lower pay. Ten of Washington' s smallest,
most isolated districts are headed by women who work as teachers,
principals, and superintendents for salaries below the state mean.
- We cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into thinking that we
are making progress when in fact the school superintendency remains
a strongly held male bastion. Women, for the most part, fill the
"rank and file" elementary and secondary school teacher
positions. Men continue to retain control of superintendencies
- 1 Salaries were spot-checked through personal contact with the
- 2 For purposes of this analysis, I define the market categories
as - office and clerical, aides, elementary school teachers, vice-principals,
and principals; secondary school teachers, vice-principals, and
principals; district administrators other than superintendent
and assistant superintendent; assistant superintendents; and superintendents.
- Association of California School Administrators (1997). Survey
concerning percentage of female superintendents by state conducted
- Blau, F.D. && Ferber, M.A. (1992). The economics
of women, men, and work. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
- Dunn, D. (1997). Workplace/women's place. Los Angeles:
- Federal Glass Ceiling Commission (1995). A solid investment:
Making full use of the nation's human capital. Washington
DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
- Goldin, C. (1990). Understanding the gender gap: An economic
history of American women. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Kelly, R.M. (1991). The gendered economy: Work, careers &
success. New York: St. Martin's Press.
- Strozyk, E. (September, 1997). Personal commuique. Supervisor
of Data Management, Information Services, Office of Superintendent
of Public Instruction, State of Washington.
- West, C. & Zimmerman, D. (1987). Doing gender. Gender
& Society (1), 125-151.
- Williams, C.L. (1995). Still a man's world: Men who do women's
work. Berkeley: University of California Press.
- Winter, D. (September, 1997). Personal communique. Executive
Director, Washington Association of School Administrators.
Mimi Wolverton is Assistant Professor in the Departmentof
Educational Leadership and Counseling Psychology at Washington StateUniversity,
Reprinted with permission, Funk, C., Pankake, A.,
Reese, M.(Eds.) (1998). Women as school executives: Realizing
the vision.Commerce, Texas: Texas A&M University-Commerce
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