Right At School Blog

Supporting Women in Leadership

While the percentage of women in the top leadership position in education is well above the 5% of S&P 500 companies led by a woman, there is still much progress to be made.

By Dr. Dawn Bridges, Vice President of Educational Affairs

While the percentage of women in the top leadership position in education is well above the 5% of S&P 500 companies led by a woman, there is still much progress to be made. Case in point: Last month I attended a professional learning event for superintendents and only 8% of those in attendance were women.

The leadership gap

Results from the 2020-21 National Teacher and Principal Survey, developed by the National Center for Education Statistics, showed that in public K-12 schools:

However, few women run school districts. A survey of American school superintendents conducted by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, showed that:

  • Only 27% of superintendents were female in 2020, a slight increase from 24% in 2010.


of superintendents were female in 2020

Below are several steps that district leaders can consider to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce for the benefit of all.

Build relationships

To create an environment where all staff members feel empowered, it is important for leaders to get to know their staff. This can also make it much easier to identify promising talent with leadership potential. Here are a few sample questions for discussion:

  • What is your “why”? What drives you?
  • What are you passionate about at work?
  • How can we expand that out to the higher meaning and purpose of our schools and district?

Elevate every member of the team

Another way to empower staff is to give everyone the opportunity to share their voice and be heard. Bring to the forefront the work of each team member. Highlight their contributions and the difference that makes to students, families, and schools. This not only elevates the individual but the entire organization.

Build a pipeline

Providing professional learning and growth opportunities can encourage underrepresented populations to join the leadership ranks. These opportunities not only help employees develop the skill sets that leadership requires, but also the confidence and skills needed to advocate for themselves and their advancement. As more and more women become leaders, other women (and girls) will see role models they can look to for inspiration and guidance.

Create flexible workplaces

Developing more flexible workplace policies can enable all employees to better balance work and family life. Further ensuring that employees have the ability to meet family needs while also investing time in themselves to achieve positive work life balance.

Eliminate biases

Unconscious bias can apply to anything, including a person’s gender, and the impact can be costly. Research by the Center for Talent Innovation shows that employees who perceive bias in the workplace are more likely to disengage, burn out, and quit. In contrast, when employees see diverse individuals in top jobs, they are less likely to perceive bias and more likely to be engaged. The same holds true when they have inclusive leaders.

Develop an inclusive culture

Creating an environment where women want to work is about more than posting diversity statements or crafting new policies; it’s about creating a culture where everyone can thrive. It’s about building a sense of belonging and sustaining an environment where every staff member feels valued and heard. It’s about constructing a space where individuals feel that they are ready, willing, and able to make an impact while also advancing their careers.

You can’t be what you can’t see

When girls see women leading, those roles feel more attainable to them as well. This is why it’s important to start early.

Right At School developed the Junior Educator program to provide children with early leadership opportunities as part of our daily curriculum activities. Every day, Junior Educators lead the Town Hall session and develop leadership skills by helping to coordinate the day’s learning, play, and growth activities. Mentored by highly trained, experienced staff, these peer leaders learn the skills of acting as role models, public speaking, and more. This builds self-esteem, confidence, and a bridge to secondary school youth leadership. In addition, younger students relish the attention of their older peers and often follow their modeling, aspiring to become leaders, too.

All means all

While Women’s History Month is celebrated in March, women make history every day. Promoting equity in education not only means doing so for our students but for everyone in the field and at all levels. Inclusion isn’t simply about bringing women into existing leadership structures. It is about making a new, better place for all current and future leaders.

Dr. Dawn Bridges
Dr. Dawn Bridges

Dr. Dawn Bridges has over 25 years of experience in the fields of education and professional learning, having held the roles of teacher, reading specialist, special education coordinator, principal, and assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. She has dedicated her career to ensuring that all students have the support they need to thrive in and out of school. You can follow Dr. Bridges on LinkedIn and Twitter and subscribe to the RAS blog to keep up with her work.

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