June 2016

Identifying trends among male, female superintendents

In Texas, male superintendents outnumber females nearly five to one—only 19 percent of Texas superintendents are female. While 77 percent of teachers are female, the majority of district superintendents are male. This trend holds true across all types of Texas districts.
There are a variety of reasons why female superintendents are less common. Across many fields, there are cases of bias against hiring females into top leadership positions, and women are still underrepresented nationally in a variety of leadership roles, according to a study by Pew Research Center. A school board or community may not intentionally prefer a male candidate over a female one, but even subconscious preferences do play a role, according to a report from the University of Virginia. Women may self-select to stay out of central administration, and they may avoid seeking leadership roles because of family considerations or the time investment required. Moving from central administration to the superintendency might require relocation, and becoming superintendent in a larger district is often preceded by multiple relocations.

Among newly-hired superintendents, 18 percent are female. There appears to have been a boom in hiring females about four years ago; among superintendents with four years in their district, 24 percent are female. The longest tenured administrators show the opposite trend. Of superintendents who have held their position in the district 10 or more years, only 16 percent were female. This could mean that fewer female superintendents were being hired 10 or more years ago, but it could also indicate that females move between districts more often, possibly pursuing career opportunities in larger districts.
Over one-quarter of all Texas superintendents have a doctoral degree. Of the doctorate holders, 25 percent were female, compared to the 19 percent of all superintendents that are female. This indicates that a higher proportion of female superintendents are pursuing this degree than males. Regardless of gender, superintendents may seek this additional degree to make themselves more competitive candidates for district administration or to make themselves more attractive to larger districts.

Medium-sized districts, those with between 1,000 and 4,999 students, have the highest proportion of female superintendents. This represents 327 districts, 23 percent of which have female superintendents. The 105 districts with over 10,000 students have the smallest proportion of female superintendents, with only 12 percent. When it comes to community type, there were markedly fewer female superintendents in the largest metropolitan districts. TEA identifies 10 major urban districts in Texas, and none have female superintendents. Of 78 major suburban districts, only 9 have female leaders (12 percent). The 444 rural districts in the state match the state overall, with 19 percent having female superintendents.

Nine of Texas’ 20 education service center (ESC) regions had more than 20 percent female superintendents, and three of those were ESC’s that include a metropolitan area (Houston, El Paso, and San Antonio). However, as noted above, the female superintendents in those regions are not generally found in the major urban and suburban districts, they are in the ring of districts just outside those areas. In addition, the Richardson/Dallas ESC had very few female superintendents—only seven of 79 (9 percent).
Of 1,024 districts, the percentage of economically disadvantaged students was available for 942 districts (others were restricted because of FERPA). In half of these districts, more than 58 percent of the students are categorized as economically disadvantaged, which means they are eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition Program. Female superintendents were twice as common in districts with more economically disadvantaged students; in these, 25 percent of superintendents were female, compared to only 13 percent female in the less economically disadvantaged ones.
One hot-button issue when it comes to gender is salary. Based on the 432 districts in which the necessary data was available, gender was not a significant predictor of salary on its own, nor when controlling for individual and district characteristics. However, gender may play a role. Pieces of data for almost 600 districts were missing, so the full picture is unknown. For 432 participants with complete data, salary differences were mostly driven by enrollment, total experience in education, having a doctorate, being in a major or central community, or being in an ESC that includes a metropolitan area. Other survey sources show that women are often promoted to the superintendency later in their careers, which means they spend more of their superintendent career in the smaller districts outside metropolitan areas that often serve as developing grounds for new superintendents.