Women's support organizations should serve as vehicles for the growth
of women at initial administrative career stages as well as for
women in top level positions.
Demographic projections for the 1990ís suggest that 45%
of all net additions to the U.S. labor force will be females (Cox,
1993); however, only about 1% are likely to be in top management
positions (Levine, 1987). The numbers of women in school
leadership positions reflect similar low percentages. The number
of female principals has risen from 13% in 1977 to 34% in 1993,
with most of these at the elementary school level (Montenegro,
1993). Percentages of female deputy and associate superintendents
rose in number from 5% in 1977 to 24% in 1993, while the number
of superintendents has risen from 2% in 1981 to 7% in 1993 (Montenegro,
Low incidents of women in mid to upper school executive positions
create problems of isolation, which are manifested by a lack of
association with other women colleagues and a lack of both companionship
and perspective. These women often find themselves as "lone
women," part of a male dominated culture that does not value
or support their leadership attempts (Schmuck, 1995). Women
in middle to upper educational management positions need opportunities
to meet with others in similar positions (Levine, 1987).
Ely (as cited by Nichols, 1993) found that women were more serious
about their work, more satisfied and more self-confident when there
were significant numbers of women in similar positions. She
discovered that women view themselves differently when there is
a critical mass of female administrators in an organization.
Based on these studies, it may be assumed that support groups for
women administrators are critical. Without such support groups,
women leaders may have limited opportunities to interact with women
colleagues and limited access to women who may effectively serve
as mentors, confidants, role models, and sponsors.
Brown and Merchant (1993) cited four related barriers for women
seeking administrative positions: "(1) absence of role models
for women, (2) lack of support and encouragement from others, (3)
lack of sponsorship within and without the organization, and (4)
lack of a supportive network" (p. 88). Brown and Irby
(1995) reported findings of research collected over three consecutive
years from aspiring or new women administrators enrolled in a "Women
in Leadership" course; the findings were that these women exhibited
lack of self-confidence and expressed naive perceptions regarding
career advancement and networking. Interestingly, Brown and
Merchant (1993) identified three components of successful support
systems for women: networking, mentoring, and learning from the
experiences of others (Brown and Merchant, 1993). If support
systems inclusive of these components were available, then it might
be possible for women new to the educational administrative ranks
to enhance their feelings of self-confidence, their awareness of
career advancement techniques and their skills in networking.
Of course, it is assumed that women would gravitate toward support
organizations which would supply those components.
The purpose of this paper is to (a) discuss the need for and the
future of women's educational administrative support organizations,
(b) report our study on the national status of such support groups,
and (c) share activities determined to be central to supporting
Need for Women's Support Organizations from An
The issues of care, connectedness, relationships, support, and
self-esteem all point to a need for support organizations.
Women are socialized to care for others throughout their lives;
with this connectedness an integral aspect of a womanís identity
development (Gilligan, 1977), women come to know themselves primarily
through their relationships with others (Gilligan, 1982; Hancock,
1981). Levine (1987) proposed that women in middle management
spend a great deal of time supporting others, but rarely think about
taking care of themselves. Furthermore, Yahne and Long (1988),
in a counseling study on womenís self-esteem issues, suggested
that women struggle with a wide range of self-esteem related issues.
Even achieving women with professional accomplishments have been
shown to experience the "impostor phenomenon". This
experience is described as attributing success to factors other
than oneís own abilities and include the fear of being discovered
as a phony (Clance & Imes, 1978). The issues of care,
connectedness, relationships, support, and self-esteem all point
to a need for support. These studies, combined with the idea
that one's social identity is derived from membership in various
groups (Ashforth & Mael, 1989), including those that are work
related, provide evidence of the need for a structured support group
Women who participated in a counseling support group designed to
address women's issues showed a significant increase in self-regard
(Yahne & Long, 1988). Levine (1987) investigated the relationship
of a small, informal peer support group, of which she was a member,
made up of professional women educators at similar levels of
management from different organizational contexts and found that
they offered an array of benefits. She listed some of these
benefits as: "(1) discovering a new way of looking at a problem,
(2) benefiting from one anotherís failures or successes,
(3) willingness to serve as resources to help one another form new
professional relationships, (4) the importance of professional contacts
to offer and receive support, and (5) meeting other dynamic women
educators in a wide range of management positions." Levine
noted that taking care of our own needs releases a hidden store
of energy for both home and work. She further proposed that
a small peer support group for women in middle management positions
is an important idea that can make an enormous difference.
The group serves as a "mechanism for broadening perspectives,
generating alternative solutions to managerial problems, and enhancing
professional and personal esteem" (p.75).
According to Stamler, Christiansen, Payne, Staley, and Johnson
(1988), the University Counseling Service of the University
of Iowa developed an idea for a group of professional staff women
that combines both professional research activities and support
functions. This combination was determined to be very successful
because it provided personal support for multiple-role women while
enhancing their professional growth through the production of scholarly
works. In view of these reports, it would appear that womenís
support groups designed to meet the needs of women in educational
leadership are needed.
Need for Women's Support Organizations from a Gendered
Why do women need support specifically from other women, as opposed
to simply belonging to a mixed gendered administrators' support
group? Jackson, Stone, and Alvarez (1992) noted that women
are more likely to categorize themselves using their gender when
the audience is mostly male. Under these conditions, womenís
social identities become the most salient aspects of their self-systems,
which in turn blurs their individuality (Gardner, Van Eck Peluchette,
& Clinebell, 1994). Grogan (1996) discussed these issues
in a more philosophical way. She points out that the control
of knowledge in various fields rest with the authority societies
offer to professional organizations, academic disciplines, or various
institutions, and that there is constant conflict emanating from
those sources of knowledge in a structuring way. She further
suggests that what ensues is alliances between groups and supporting
arguments that always force those who differ to be moved to the
side. Those differences further isolate the less powerful and provide
the dominant groups more strength that perpetuates societal rules
and regulations. Women's different experiences often bring
them into conflict with the dominant establishment and, having less
power, they are often compelled to conform to the hegemonic view.
Men learn the rules and cultural expectations society has for them
at an early age. The value of competition is acquired in team
sports where they learn to win at all costs, to play with pain,
to compete ruthlessly, and to be loyal to their teams. Women,
on the other hand, learn to share, to show compassion, and to be
nurturing. Therefore, it is likely that when women join
male dominated organizations, they are unaware of societal parameters
which will determine their success (Robbins & Terrell, 1987).
Studies indicate that women need time to grow together professionally
and to learn from other women. Schmuck (1995) suggested that
" . . . there is something special and celebratory for same
sex members of all races and ethnic groups to come together; perhaps
one of the most compelling and powerful experiences that women have
in the conferences and workshops for women is the camaraderie, the
shared unspoken assumptions, and the revelation of oneís
experience which is understood" (p. 216).
Future of Women's Support Organizations
Brown and Irby (1995) stated that women's support organizations
should serve as vehicles for both the growth of women at initial
administrative career stages as well as for women in top level positions.
Because the needs of women at diverse career stages vary greatly,
support organizations should carefully assess the needs of members
or potential members and strategically plan for meeting those needs
Schmuck (1995) shared four specific recommendations for the future
of advocacy groups for women school administrators: (1) women advocacy
groups in educational administration should no longer have as a
primary goal a womanís personal desire for career entry and
advancement, (2) women advocacy groups should assist in refocusing
the schoolís concerns on the childís welfare of our
children, (3) women advocacy groups in educational administration
would do better to address the problems of practicing women administrators
who often find themselves as the ìloneî woman, or alone
in a male dominated culture, (4) women advocacy groups in educational
administration should concentrate, and even celebrate, the values
of caring, calling for democracy, and collaboration.
National Status of Support Groups for Women
The purpose of our study was to: (1) determine which American Association
of School Administrators (AASA) state level organizations have women's
affiliates or subsidiary organizations, and (2) to determine from
those existing state level AASA organizations what types of supportive
activities are provided for their members. In addition, 41
state level womenís advocacy groups, identified by Schmuck
(1995), were contacted to determine what types of supportive activities
are provided. The research questions for this study were:
(1) what support networks and organizations are currently available
to women in educational administration as determined from AASA state
level organizations and from the Schmuck (1995) listing of womenís
support organizations, and (2) what services are provided through
After the initial research question was developed, the AASA Women's
Caucus was contacted to secure a listing of all AASA state level
affiliate women's groups. However, once it was determined
that this group did not hold such a list, then two questionnaires
were developed for this study. The initial questionnaire was
distributed to the fifty-one United States AASA state-level executive
directors. They were requested to provide information as to whether
their respective state organizations had a separate division, chapter
or affiliate group that dealt with specific issues affecting women
in educational administration. These 51 AASA organizations
included 49 states. Hawaii was not listed as having a state organization.
Three states were listed with two state-level AASA organizations
per state, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. A second in-depth
survey was then sent to AASA state level organizations that responded
positively. This survey requested the following information
regarding each identified separate women's affiliate group:
Ô number of members
Ô how long the organization has been
Ô frequency of conferences and workshops
Ô topics included in conferences and
Ô board members and meetings
Ô local/regional groups
Ô job banks
Ô internet web sites
Ô other supportive activities provided
to the women in the organization.
In addition, the in-depth survey was sent to forty-one other state
level professional organizations for female school administrators
as indicated in the Schmuck (1995) listing. If responses to
the in-depth survey were not received from the AASA organizations
or from the other groups listed, phone calls were made requesting
the survey information. Telephone attempts were logged with the
types of responses received. The answers and information from
the in-depth surveys were developed in a file on SPSS for Windows.
Open-ended responses were recorded and analyzed qualitatively.
Fifty-two questionnaires were returned, a 100 % return rate, from
the AASA state level executive directors. Of the 52 AASA organizations
responding, only nine indicated having any type of womenís
affiliate or support group currently in place. Nine in-depth
surveys to the contact person designated by the AASA state director
were then mailed. Three of these in-depth surveys were returned.
Additional phone contacts were made to gather the information.
Consequently, all state level womenís affiliate groups were
contacted for information. Those states reporting a AASA state level
womenís support group were: Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas,
Mississippi, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Texas.
Listing of American Association of School Administrators State
Level Organizations Reporting Women's Affiliate or Associated Support
Women's Support Group and Contact
||Northwest Women for Educational Action
2311 E. Lanark
Meridian, ID 83642
||Women in Educational Leadership
Keota Community Schools
Keota, IA 52248
||Kansas Association of School Administrators Women's Caucus
P.O. Box 158
Clearwater, KS 67026
||Kentucky Institute for Women in School Administration
1211 Louisville Road
Frankfort, KY 40601
||Northwest Women in Educational Administration
Oregon Department of Education
255 Capital Street, NE
Salem, OR 97310-0203
||Mississippi Association for Women in Educational Leadership
HCC Box 1263
Raymond, MS 37154
||Women's Caucus of Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators
Manheim Central School District
71 N. Hazel Street
Manheim, PA 17545-1500
||Texas Council of Women School Executives
Ann Halstead, Executive Secretary
406 East 11th Street
Austin, TX 78701-2617
||Wisconsin Women Superintendent's Group
Beloit School District
Beloit, WI 53511
Of the 41 other listings from Schmuck (1995), seven in-depth surveys
were returned. Three of those are cross-referenced with the
AASA contacts. Telephone contacts were attempted with all 34
remaining organizations. Of these 34 organizations, five telephone
numbers were inoperable and seven of the listed contact persons had
moved with no forwarding address or telephone number. Eight
contacts supplied fax numbers, and in-depth surveys were faxed immediately.
Two of those organizations' surveys were returned by fax. One
was determined to no longer be in existence; one was determined as
a support group, but not a formal organization, while the remaining
12 did not return phone messages. One support group was determined
to be an umbrella organization for seven state level organizations.
The treasurer and president of that organization were contacted and
responded via telephone to the in-depth survey.
Of the total number of potential in-depth survey respondents, only
15 surveys were completed, with one being from the umbrella organization.
Those organizations responding from the Schmuck (1995) list were
Women In Educational Administration (CA), Network of Women Administrators
(CT), Network of Women School Executives (IN), Women in Educational
Administration (NE), PASA Women's Caucus (PA -- Cross-referenced
with AASA response), Iowa Women in Educational Leadership (IA --
Cross-referenced with AASA response), NY State Association for Women
Administrators (NY), Northwest Women in Educational Administration
(OR -- Cross-referenced with AASA response) and Utah Women Educational
Administration Association (UT). The NorthEast Coalition of
Educational Leaders, Inc. (NECAL) represents the following states:
Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New
Jersey, and Connecticut. According to NECAL, each of those
states has a women administrator's support group.
Schmuck's (1995) List of Contacted State Level Organizations Reporting
Women's Educational Administration Support Groups
Women's Support Group and Contact
||Women in Educational Administration
University of La Verne
Department of Educational Management
1950 Third Street
La Verne, CA 91750
|Northeast Coalition of Educational Leaders, Inc.
244 Fort Hill Road
Gorham, ME 04038
||Network of Women Administrators
Educational Leadership & Policy Studies
Wendell W. Wright Education Building
201 N. Rose Avenue, #4228
Bloomington, IN 47405
||The Leadership Academy
205 Jefferson Street
P.O. Box 480
Jefferson City, Missouri 65102
||New York State Association of Women Administrators
135 Western Avenue, Husted 211
Albany, NY 12222
||Utah Women in Educational Administration Association
Utah State Office of Education
250 East 500 South
Salt Lake City, UT 84111
||Illinois Women's Association
Illinois State University
Campus Box 5900
Normal, IL 61790-5900
(*Data submitted after study was complete, but not included in the
Of the 15 state level organizations reporting, the rounded mean
for membership is 142. The number of members for individual
organizations ranged from 20 to 300. The largest state organizations
in terms of membership reported are Missouri and Texas. Length of
existence for organizations ranges from "just formed"
to a 20 year anniversary for one organization. The rounded
mean for years in existence for the reporting organizations is 11.
Two of the organizations do not hold conferences, while four of
the organizations meet semi-annually and the remaining nine meet
annually. Out of the 15, three do not conduct specific workshops
for members. Other workshop numbers range from 1 to 10 per
year. Topics in the conferences and workshops include a wide
range of information: self-renewal, preparing for promotion, dealing
with conflict and stress, mentoring, networking, changing demands
for leaders, leadership styles, student assessment, career paths
of female superintendents, sexual harassment, issues in administration,
communication skills, teaching and learning, moral leadership, Workforce
2000, women school executives, and interviewing skills
The 15 organizations also reported the number of executive board
meetings held annually. The number of meetings ranged from
none to 12 meetings a year, with a rounded mean of 4.
Twelve groups reported having no men on their executive board.
One group reported having two men and another three groups reported
having one man on their board. The number of women on the
executive boards ranged from none to 35 women, with a rounded mean
of 11. Information was gathered concerning local and regional affiliate
groups. Seven of the 15 have some form of regional affiliated
groups. Eight reported having no regional affiliations.
Organizations were asked to report on the types and frequency of
publications. Publications included newsletters, journals
and books. Four reported no newsletter publication.
Five publish a newsletter semi-annually. Two publish a newsletter
three times a year, while two publish quarterly. One organization
publishes 10 monthly newsletters, and one publishes 12. No
organization reported publication of a journal; however, three reported
sharing information in the state level AASA organization.
One of the 15 reported the publication of a book.
Organizations were asked to report on other information sources
for their members, including job banks and Internet web sites.
Job banks were offered by four, while 11 offered none. Internet
web sites were reported by four, with 11 reporting no sites at this
time. At least three organizations were contemplating a website.
The survey concluded by asking what other supportive activities
are provided to the women in the organization. Responses included:
resume preparation, mock interviews, networking directory, access
to national organizations, sponsoring activities at state level
education meetings, mentoring and placement assistance. Two
state organizations reported offering scholarships.
One of the surveys included information from the NorthEast Coalition
of Educational Leaders, Inc. This information revealed that
the NECEL covers seven states with a conference biannually.
State workshops for NECEL are held annually. A newsletter
is published monthly with a journal, Voices, published semi-annually.
Services to members include a job bank with other support services
being mock interviews and resume review service. The NECEL is currently
producing a web site.
One of the executive directors from one state that did not report
a separate womenís support group wrote a follow-up letter
and stated that his AASA organization believed in full inclusion
as demonstrated by the number of women administrators holding leadership
positions in the association. However, this state organization
does sponsor a Women's Caucus Breakfast at their annual convention.
The researchers requested information from organizations that advocate
for women administrators and executives. Researchers contacted
over 100 reported organizations. After repeated attempts by
mail, phone and fax, only 15 replied to the in-depth questionnaire.
Therefore, the results of this study can only be suggestive rather
than definitive. Sharing of information by these groups would be
extremely beneficial to others interested in such groups.
We can suggest that support organizations and groups for women administrators
need to continue to grow and flourish. Although limited in
scope, the research indicates that organizations for women administrators
are attempting to serve women executives.
The researchers make five recommendations for increasing support
to women administrators. The first recommendation would be
for the AASA to publish and provide an updated directory of womenís
administrative support organizations. This directory could
be printed in an AASA publication or accessed through the Internet.
Also, a recommendation is made to encourage womenís administrative
support organizations to form coalitions and collaborate with other
state agencies and organizations. The third recommendation
is for womenís support organizations to publicize information
about membership, meetings and networking opportunities. The
next recommendation is for these organizations to become actively
involved in promoting activities that would allow women administrators
networking opportunities and career advancement. The final
recommendation called for continued research in regard to support
groups and activities for women administrators. In particular,
research on whether or not these groups are meeting the needs of
their women members should be conducted. Additionally, the
researchers suggest that investigations are needed regarding the
phenomenon of full inclusion of women into male-dominated organizations
without specifically structured womenís support groups.
Based on our research study, this phenomenon appears to be the rule
rather than the exception. A final question for further thought
is that if general research findings are antithetical to the practice
of inclusion without structured support for women, how well are
the women in such organizations fairing in comparison to their male
counterparts in terms of stress management, job satisfaction, skill
development, mentoring, networking, and career advancement.
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* Note: The researchers wish to thank Marie Holder and Stephanie
Smith, Graduate Students in Educational Leadership, Sam Houston
State University, for assisting in the completion of this investigation.
Additionally, if your state has a women's support organization in
educational leadership, the researchers would be interested in receiving
information via e-mail about the organization.
Beverly J. Irby is Associate Professor and Coordinator of Research
for the Center for Research and Doctoral Studies in Educational
Leadership at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.
Genevieve Brown is Professor and Chair of Educational Leadership
and Counseling at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.
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