School & District Management

By the Numbers: How Men Are Favored for the Superintendent’s Job

By Denisa R. Superville & Laura Baker — December 14, 2022 1 min read
Image of a female figure looking down at where you can check-off "Men" or "Women"
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The majority of teachers, principals, and central office staff are women. Yet women continue to be outnumbered in the top job.

It got worse for female superintendents during the pandemic, according to a new report by the ILO Group, a nonprofit geared toward increasing the number of women serving in senior leadership roles in school districts.

As 49 percent of the country’s 500 largest school districts changed leaders during the pandemic—some of them multiple times—a disturbing trend emerged: the women who left were more likely to be replaced by men.

But the report points to some areas that could be leveraged to boost those numbers.

A dearth of female district chiefs

While women comprise the vast majority of the workforce in schools, the number of women at the superintendent level dwindles to less than one-third.

Image representing that 76% of teachers are female in a study of the top 500 school districts, 56% of principals are women, and 30% of superintendents are women.

External hires favor male candidates

Nearly half of the country’s largest 500 school districts are run by superintendents who had not previously worked in the district.

The ILO analysis found that in those cases, the successful candidates tended to be men.

Of the 241 districts where the superintendent came from outside the school system, only 66 of them—27 percent—had a woman at the helm.

Diagram showing: Of the 241 districts where the superintendent came from outside the school system, only 66 of them—27 percent—had a woman at the helm

But women have a better shot if they’d already worked in the district

A promising sign: Women who’ve previously worked in the district in positions such as a chief academic officer or a deputy superintendent stood a good chance of getting the top job if they applied.

In the 150 districts where women were superintendents through September, 56 percent had previously worked in the district.

Diagram showing: In the 150 districts where women were superintendents through September, 56 percent had previously worked in the district.

And in 52 percent of the largest 500 districts that opted to go with an internal candidate, 32 percent of those districts are run by women. But one downside is that women often had to prove themselves first—such as working as the interim superintendent—before finally getting the permanent post.

Diagram showing: In 52 percent of the largest 500 districts that opted to go with an internal candidate, 32 percent of those districts are run by women. But one downside is that women often had to prove themselves first—such as working as the interim superintendent—before finally getting the permanent post.

Animations are by Laura Baker/Education Week via Canva

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