elevating Female Leaders for International Women’s Day

Female leader

Celebrate and Empower Female Leaders in Education

As a woman small business owner, I celebrate female leadership everyday, not just International Women’s Day, as do all female leaders. But since today is noteworthy, I wanted to take the time to celebrate all of the female leaders out there in education!

The Education Force has Become More Female through the Years

Did you know that teacher and principal roles have been filled by more women since you went to school? A win for the growth in female leaders! However, the growth is disproportionate for leadership positions for individual schools, not school districts.

Educators have become more female in the past decades. Today, the majority of school principals and teachers are female. However, male school superintendents still outnumber females about 3:1.
SOURCES: Ingersoll et al. & CPRE, 2018; NCES, 2019; & American Association of School Administrators (AASA), 2018.

See the graph above that shows the Representation of Females in Education Leadership positions between 1967 and 2018. Discovering that educators are becoming more female blew me away while I was in graduate school. I don’t know about you, but almost all of my K-12 teachers were white women, so it surprised me that teacher demographics were headed further in the same direction. (Female teachers increased from 1967 to 2018: 85-89% for elementary, 49-64% for secondary school teachers).

On the other hand, we must applaud the women trailblazers who have stepped up in larger numbers in education leadership positions over the years! Only 15% of principals were women in 1967, but now over half of school principals are women (54%)! Why are women still the minority of school superintendents in 2021? (22.5% female in 17-18)

Female Superintendents are Leaders in Education

“When I became the first female superintendent in the 150-year history of my school district, I was asked what would be different about me than the male superintendents before me. My answer was, I’ll have a table runner in my office. To me, leadership is about skill, experience, disposition, and decision-making; not gender. To that end, I am proud to represent my district as a role model for other women that strive to serve at the helm of a school district as superintendent.”

Leighangela Brady, EdD, Superintendent of Schools

Turning to a colleague and mentor who is a school superintendent, I texted Leighangela and asked if she’d be willing to share a quote as a female leader in education. I have had the pleasure of observing Dr. Brady’s effectiveness as a leader, both before the pandemic and while reimagining school. Not only does her leadership encompass disposition and decision-making, she also leads from the heart.

While doing research to create elevatEd SEL for the Whole Educational Community, I became intrigued with the simultaneous power and simplicity of vulnerability. Stronger leaders, such as Leighangela, led with the heart, led with their own vulnerability. Leaders who kicked-off meetings with a personal story or offering from their own heart, had participants that were more engaged in their message. It was almost as if leaders needed to give something in order to get anything out of folks on the other side of the screen.

Every Action has an Equal and Opposite Reaction

As a science teacher, my mind visualized vulnerable leadership as phenomena similar to Newton’s Third Law of Motion: Every action has an equal an opposite reaction. Leading with power or fear resulted in disengagement, burnout, low productivity, and low morale. Leading with vulnerability resulted in increased engagement, productivity, and morale.

“To be in charge is not an aggressive statement, it is really a commitment to yourself. It is owning who you are. You own your imperfections, they become your assets. You own your vulnerability, it becomes your strength.”

Diane von Furstenberg, Own It

Vulnerable leaders infected my mind in both positive and negative ways. On a positive note, I was able to notice and recognize effective leadership and communication. I try to make a point to acknowledge and thank fellow vulnerable humans now. On a negative note, I became critical of the leaders in my professional circle who were not leading with vulnerability. They said they valued trust and transparency, but those values were not reflected in their work or actions.

Admittedly, I do not have enough data nor willingness to make a claim that male leaders are less vulnerable than female leaders. However, I have personally found more cases of effective, vulnerable leadership from women, or those who have at least embraced their feminine side.

Effective Leadership Embraces Both Hard and Soft Skills

Highly respected Jungian psychologist Marion Woodman theorized that we all suppress our inner femininity while embracing masculine strengths. Feminine energy is loving, passive, hopeful, and gives rise to life, like Yin. Masculine energy is strong, confident, goal-oriented, and embraces individuality, like Yang.

“The feminine principle of love succumbs to calculating intellectualized ambition”

Marion Woodman, Addiction to Perfection

As a female leader, I have personally found my confidence and grit to be met with resistance throughout my career. There have been times that my male superiors relied on my expertise to design innovative solutions requiring skills they did not possess, yet I would not receive appropriate credit. Other times, male colleagues have told me to “remove emotion” from work or business. Identifying as a woman should not overshadow your natural leadership skills. We have to continue to embrace the vulnerable, emotional nature of femininity in addition to ambition.

Woodman observed that society tends to value masculine strengths over feminine ones, but we really need to embrace our whole selves to thrive. Strong leaders are both strong and vulnerable, decisive and open, confident and loving. Perhaps feminine energy was the missing piece of balanced, effective leadership.

Back to the development of elevatEd SEL for the Whole Educational Community, balancing forces kept appearing in my research on resilience as well. In order to reimagine schools in 2021, we need education leadership that is both goal-oriented and love-oriented. Yes, we need strong confident leadership to imagine creative solutions to the problems of today, as well as to bring them to fruition. Yes and we need strong social-emotional leadership to inspire staff and students to spur engagement, motivation, and innovation for the whole educational community.

Happy International Women’s Day to all of the female leaders of today, tomorrow, and everyday!

Photo of confident young Jaclyn as a child

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