It is important for women to be aware of differences in perceived
employment characteristics as they seek positions in educational
administration. An awareness of these perceptions will allow women
the opportunity to present themselves in a manner which will counteract
Perception is reality to the person who is doing the
perceiving. This perception may not be the truth but that is not
of priary concern to the person making the decision. Perception
is what an individual understands or believes to be true. The question
addressed in this research was what was the perception of superintendents
and school board presidents of the employment characteristics of
women who are seeking positions in educational administration. Were
there still perceptions held by superintendents and school board
presidents that are influencing the hiring of women? Were the perceived
employment characteristics of women any different today than in
the late 1970's after the years of affirmative action?
Superintendents and school boards have great influence
in the hiring processes within school districts. In the last twenty
years the number of women enrolling in graduate programs which prepare
individuals to be educational administrators in public schools has
continued to increase. However, the number of women who have been
employed in positions in educational administration is still far
fewer than the number of men (Bushweller, 1997).
In 1978, the American Association of School Administrators
(AASA) conducted research which utilized a survey that contained
items that identified employment characteristics. This research
found that there was a difference in the perceived employment characteristics
attributed to men and women by superintendents and school board
presidents (AASA, 1981). The issue of differences in employment
characteristics between men and women has been a point of discussion
and research by other individuals as well. Shakeshaft (1989) listed
differences in words and phrases used in describing male and female
employees in the evaluation process. These characteristics were
similar to those in the survey instrument used in the AASA research.
In 1955 Parson and Bales (as cited in Bell & Chase,
1995) indicated that expressive or interpersonal leadership characteristics
were attributed to women and instrumental or task oriented leadership
characteristics were attributed to men. In more recent writings
there has been further discussion of the perceived differences in
the characteristics of men and women in leadership positions (Bell
& Chase, 1995; Regan, 1990). The descriptors in these writings
were very similar or the same as those included in the research
by AASA in 1978.
The research conducted in this study in 1996 to determine
if there had been any changes in perceptions regarding the employment
characteristics of men and women since 1978 was a replication of
research conducted in 1978 by the American Association of School
Administrators The survey which was used included four sections
"under the general heading 'employment characteristics of women.'
The related subtopics were (a) work attitudes and habits, (b) interest
and motivation, (c) temperament, and (d) aptitude, knowledge and
skills." (AASA, p.15)
The survey in 1996, as in 1978, was a national survey
of superintendents and school board presidents. A stratified random
sample was chosen to assure representation of various size school
districts. Table 1 shows
the strata used and the percent of the sample chosen in each strata.
In the 1996 research, superintendents and school board
presidents were mailed The Science Research Associates Opinion Survey
for Men and Women (SRA). This was the same instrument that was utilized
in 1978. In 1978, 200 surveys were sent to superintendents and school
board presidents and 115 were returned. Surveys were returned by
92 superintendents and 23 school board presidents. This was a response
rate of 29 %. In 1996, 256 superintendents and 256 school board
presidents received the survey and 130 were returned. There were
86 surveys from the superintendents. There were 44 surveys returned
by the school board presidents. The combined response rate for the
two groups in 1996 was 24.5 %.
Results of Survey
The response categories for each of the items in the
four sections were (a) men much more than women, (b) men slightly
more than women, (c) no difference, (d) women slightly more than
men, and (e) women much more than men. There was a total of 68 items.
In all of the four areas , the neutral choice of "no
difference" would indicate that this characteristic was perceived
as the same for both men and women and either gender would be considered
equally for employment. On all items the shift in choice was in
the direction of the "no difference" response between
1978 and 1996 by at least one of the two groups, superintendents
and school board presidents. However the change in the distribution
was only significant on 48 of these items for superintendents and
on 35 items for school board presidents. A chi-square (p < .01)
was utilized to determine significant change. In Tables 2, 3, 4,
and 5 the items are grouped based on the significance of change
for both groups or for each group individually.
Work Attitudes and Habits
For the 16 items in this area there was a positive
increase in the choice of "no difference" on all items
for superintendents and on 15 items for school board presidents.
The change was significant on eight items for both groups.
In the first five items listed in (Table
2), the selection of the "no difference" category
rose to almost 70 % or more indicating less of a difference in the
perception of the employment characteristics of men and women. These
changes were significant at the .01 level.
For the item "work effectively with subordinates,"
there was a significant change away from favoring men to seeing
no difference between men and women. The change was almost 20 percentage
points for both superintendents and school board presidents.
Superintendents in the current research saw women
as more dependable employees than in 1978. For the three items "are
reliable in a crisis," "are often absent from work"
and "are likely to quit," there was a significant positive
change in the selection of the "no difference" option.
School board presidents have increased the choice of "no difference"
by 20, 35, and 44 % respectively which were also significant changes.
On the last two of these items, this made the opinion of school
board presidents much more similar to superintendents in 1996 than
in 1978. Those who saw a difference attributed these characteristics
more to women than men. On the item "are reliable in a crisis,"
those who saw a difference, attributed this more to men than to
For the item "put family matters ahead of their
job" there has been a shift in attitude of almost 20 % by school
board presidents and more than 20 % by superintendents to the "no
difference" choice. However, women were still seen as putting
family matters before the job much more than men. For superintendents
in a combined "women slightly more than men/women much more
the men," this was 41 %. For school board presidents this total
was 57 %.
Superintendents were also showing a more positive
attitude toward women on the item "view work as a social situation"
by indicating no difference based on gender 66 % of the time as
opposed to only 35 % in 1978. There was no change in attitude by
school board presidents. However, nearly 30 % of the superintendents
along with 50 % of the school board presidents still felt that this
was a characteristic of women.
Superintendents were also showing a more positive
attitude with respect to the item "work effectively with co-workers"
where superintendents chose "no difference" 78 % of the
time which was a 24 % increase and a significant change. The increase
in this choice by school board presidents was five % which was not
significant. Other alternative choices were almost evenly distributed
between men and women for both superintendents and school board
presidents for this item.
Interesting continued trends were seen in several
other items in this category. For the item "take too much time
off for personal reasons," 24 % of the superintendents and
25 % of the school board presidents perceive this is a characteristic
of women. Nearly 60 % of the school board presidents and 40 % of
the superintendents indicate women "put family matters ahead
of their jobs" more so than men. Women were still seen as able
to "accept the opposite sex as co-workers" and "care
about the quality of their work" more than men. There has been
significant change by superintendents in choosing "no difference"
on the later item. However, at least 20 % of both superintendents
and board presidents favored women on this trait.
Men were seen as resisting new methods more than women.
Women were seen to "waste time socializing" more than
men. These have not changed significantly since 1978. Also, nearly
20 % of superintendents and school board presidents saw women as
keeping up with new developments on the job more than men. This
was a significant change for board presidents.
Interest and Motivation
In the section of the survey on interest and motivation,
there were several additional items along with the item "set
long-range goals and work toward them" where nearly 80 % or
more of both school board presidents and superintendents saw no
difference between men and women (see Table 3 ). Two of these items were "desire
interesting and challenging work" and "want to develop
their special abilities at work." On both items the selection
of the "no difference" category by superintendents in
1978 was high. There was an increase in the selection of this category
in 1996 by superintendents, but the change was not significant.
However, for school board presidents the increase in the selection
of "no difference" was significant on both items from
1978 to 1996.
In a third item, "want to participate in training
opportunities," the indication of no difference between men
and women reached 80 % in 1996. This was a significant change for
both groups of respondents.
Although there was a significant level of change on
6 of the 14 items by both superintendents and school board presidents
in the choice of the "no difference" category, there were
still a number of items where nearly 30 % or more of the individuals
in both positions saw a difference between men and women. Men are
seen as (a) wanting to get ahead, (b) liking math, science, and
high finance, and (c) preferring to work for men. Women were perceived
as (a) more home oriented rather than job oriented and (b) liking
to help others.
Men were also perceived as (a) liking to work alone
on a project, (b) wanting increased responsibility, and (c) needing
novelty and adventure more than women. Women were seen as (a) having
a stronger desire for security than men, (b) wanting to participate
in training opportunities, and (c) enjoying doing routine tasks.
The item of greatest change for superintendents dealt
with job orientation, "are home-oriented rather than job-oriented,"
where there was an increase in the "no difference" category
of 31 %. However, in 1996 this item was still attributed more to
women than men. For school board presidents the greatest change
was 44 percent on the item "like math, science, and high finance."
This attribute was still seen as more characteristic of men than
women as has been mentioned.
In the topic area of temperament there were 18 items.
As seen in Table 4, both superintendents and school
board presidents have significantly improved their perception of
women in the area of sensitive to criticism and being independent
and self-sufficient. In the items which addressed jealousy and emotionality,
superintendents saw women in a significantly more positive light
than did school board presidents who have not significantly changed
perception. In fact, of all of the 18 items, only in the items "give
up easily" and "are slightly timid rather than forward"
did school board presidents chose the "no difference"
category to a greater degree than superintendents. In all of the
other 16 items, superintendents were more supportive of women than
school board presidents as evidenced by choosing the "no difference"
category more frequently.
Even though there was an increase in the choosing
of the "no difference" category, when the entire distribution
of choices was studied for each item it was noted that there was
a distinct attribution tendency of certain temperament descriptors
to men and others to women. This tendency has remained constant
from 1978 to 1996. Those descriptors attributed to women were (a)
sensitive to criticism, (b) jealousy, (c) too emotional about their
jobs, (d) cry easily, (e) slightly timid rather than forward, (f)
strongly desire security and approval, (g) warm and friendly toward
others, and (h) sensitive to others feelings. Those descriptors
attributed to men were (a) stand up under fire, (b) hide their true
feelings, (c) competitive, (d) self-confident, (e) lose their tempers
easily, (f) aggressive, (g) keep cool in emergencies and (h) narrow-
Aptitude, Knowledge, and Skills
Of interest in the set of characteristics which address
aptitude, knowledge, and skills was the fact that there were eight
items where the increase in the choice of "No difference"
by school board presidents was from 10 to 25 % greater than superintendents
(see Table 5). Even though
in all eight of the items the change was greater for school board
presidents than superintendents, this change simply brought school
board presidents to a similar percentage as that of superintendents.
This would indicate that the attitude of school board presidents
has gradually reached the same degree of acceptance as superintendents.
In all but one of these eight items the "no difference"
category was chosen almost 75 % of the time or more.
For the two items "make effective decisions"
and "are capable administrators," it was interesting to
note the choice of the "no difference" option was above
90 %. The change in the option of "no difference" as a
choice on the first item was an increase of between 13 % for superintendents
and 22 % for school board presidents since 1978. The greatest change
in this category, 34 %, was of the school board presidents' perception
of there being no difference between men and women as capable administrators.
The change on this same item was 16 % for superintendents.
For the item "have leadership potential,"
96 % of the superintendents and 84 % of the school board presidents
choose the no difference category in 1996. This was an increase
of 14 % for superintendents and increase of 18 % for school board
presidents which was a significant change for both groups since
When the entire distribution is studied for all 20
items in this topic area, it was again evident that several of the
aptitudes, knowledge and skills listed were attributed to women
more than to men. These items were those that address (a) verbal
ability, (b) accuracy and precision, (c) good at detail work, (d)
ability to get people to work together, (e) clerical aptitude, (f)
social skills and tact, and (g) creative and inventive.
Men more than women were seen as possessing the (a)
ability to negotiate contracts effectively, (b) having mechanical
aptitude, (c) understanding financial matters, (d) having mathematical
ability, (e) holding their own in an argument, and (f) solving logical
For the aptitude or skill "size up situations
accurately," 87 % of the superintendents and 75 % of the school
board presidents chose the no difference category. For those not
choosing the no difference category, superintendents favored men
and school board presidents favored women.
Summary of Findings
The 68 statements in four sections of the SRA survey
were designed to assess the perceived employment characteristics
of women. These four sections were titled (a) work attitudes and
habits, (b) interest and motivation, (c) temperament, and (d) aptitudes,
knowledge, and skills. A choice of "no difference" indicated
both men and women were perceived as possessing the characteristic
stated in the item equally. On all items the shift in attitude was
in the direction of no difference between women and men by at least
one of the two groups surveyed. However the change was only significant
on 33 of these items for superintendents and on 32 items for school
board presidents. A chi-square (p < .01) was utilized to determine
significant change in the choice distributions from 1978 to 1996.
A summary of the 68 items that were still seen as
more characteristic of men or women is presented in Table
6. The perceptions that were found in 1978 still hold in 1996
although these perceptions do not hold to the same degree.
There are several conclusions and implications which
result from these findings.
Conclusions and Implications
The results of this research indicated that the differences
in perceived employment characteristics of men and women have changed
since 1978. The change has been a positive change toward women.
However, the change although significant in many areas, has not
been significant in all areas as noted in the detailed discussion.
Worthy of further discussion are those characteristics
where almost 20 % or more of the superintendents and school board
presidents perceived the characteristics to be attributed more to
women. Some of these characteristics can be seen as a positive attribute
while others have negative connotations and are ones that need to
be of concern. These characteristics are shown in Table
Of the 68 items on the survey, 23 items or 34 % are
listed in Table 7. This is an indication that perceived differences
between the employment characteristics still exist and can not be
ignored. Overall, these differences are more strongly held by school
board presidents than by superintendents as seen in the percentages
shown in Table 7. On 28 of the 23 items the percent indicating an
attribute is more characteristic of women is greater for school
board presidents than for superintendents.
When classifying these items as positive or negative,
12 were indicated as having a negative connotation. Only three of
the perceptions defined as negative are more strongly held by superintendents
than by school board presidents. These were strongly desire security,
are slightly timid rather than forward, and are accurate and precise.
Of those characteristics under the area of work attitudes
and habits, the first four of those seen as negative by the author
are believed to be closely associated with the responsibilities
women have for home and family. The same is believed to be true
of the two items seen as negative under interest and motivation.
Of the items under temperament, five of the six were
thought to be negative. Women were still perceived as being very
emotional and as displaying this emotion in the workplace.
A more positive perception was seen in the group of
items under aptitudes, knowledge, and skills. When these items are
combined with other items defined as positive in the other categories,
this provides a case for employing women. These characteristics
are all necessary for quality work and many are in the area of interpersonal
relations. More people lose jobs because they are unable to work
with others than for not having the job skills.
Three items were seen as being both positive and negative.
These were seen as positive characteristics because they are necessary
for quality work. However these items were also categorized as negative
because these attributes were seen by the author to be the reason
many women are encouraged toward or kept in middle management or
As has been noted the change in perception has been
a positive change toward women. Overall, the change has been greater
for superintendents than for school board presidents in the four
different areas of characteristics surveyed. It is felt that superintendents
are much closer to more employment situations than are school board
presidents and would be more accurate in their judgment of these
issues than school board presidents.
It is important for women to be aware of differences
in perceived employment characteristics as they seek positions in
educational administration. An awareness of these perceptions will
allow women the opportunity to present themselves in a manner which
will counteract these perceptions.
Superintendents will be key participants in these
efforts as the survey results indicate because of their more positive
perception of women. Superintendents need to be encouraged to support
women and to educate school board members as to the capabilities
of women as educational administrators. Superintendents through
their words and actions can assist in changing perceptions of school
American Association of School Administrators. (1981).
Survey: Attitudes toward women as school district administrators.
Arlington, VA: Educational Research Service.
Bell, C. S. & Chase, S. E. (1995, April). Gender
in the theory and practice of educational leadership. Journal
for a Just and Caring Education, 1(2), 200-223.
Bushweller, K (Ed.). (1996, December). Education vital
signs. The American School Board Journal, 182 (12),
Regan, H. B. (1990, Summer). Not for women only: School
administration as a feminist activity. Teachers College Record,
Shakeshaft, C. (1989). Women in educational administration.
Newbury Park, CA: Corwin.
Shepard, I. S. (1997). Women as school district administrators:
Past and present attitudes of superintendents and school board presidents.
5th Annual NCPEA Yearbook. Lancaster, PA: Technomic.
I. Sue Shepard is an Associate Professor of Educational
Administration and Counseling at Southeast Missouri State University,
Cape Girardeau, MO .
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