A Portrait of an Iowa Woman Superintendent: A Study of Attributes and Barriers for Women Assessing the Position of Superintendent in Iowa
Olsen, Gladys Idelle
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The problem: 10.5% of the superintendents and 71 % of teachers in lowa are female. The problem for this study was to identify barriers that women face in accessing the superintendency and the attributes needed to overcome those barriers, in order to answer the question: What does it take to for a woman to become a superintendent in lowa? Procedure: A survey was electronically mailed to all 37 2003-2004 lowa female superintendents, with 37 randomly selected male superintendents from an lowa Department of Education list. The response rate to this survey was 97.2% for males and 75.6% for females. Frequency response tables and data analysis, primarily the Wilcoxon/Mann-Whitney/U Test, were used to determine significant differences between the groups. Qualitative interviews were conducted with three female superintendents and representatives of the three major superintendent search firms in the state. Qualitative data were analyzed using iterations of the constant comparative method. Stories were represented using characteristics of the testimonio genre. Findings: Quantitative: Significant differences included: Female superintendents accessed the superintendency at older ages than males, were less likely to be married, were more likely to be employed in schools of less than 3,000 students, and 55% earned less than the average superintendent salary for the state. Approximately 26% of female superintendents felt they received low support from recruiters. Qualitative: Search consultants and school board presidents were the gatekeepers in the selection process. Mentors and networking were critical to women's career advancement. Women must exhibit perseverance, business acumen, and "grit" in order to access a superintendency. Overt and covert discrimination against women still exists which inhibits the advancement of more women to positions of school leadership. The field of education demonstrated a hegemonic and androcentric system which does not favor women in leadership. Recommendations: (1) The disparity between the number of females certified in lowa and those practicing as superintendents. (2) Perceptions of school boards, especially school board presidents about hiring women as superintendents. (3) Female superintendents' career stories, particularly about how they accessed the superintendency. (4) Occurrences of bullying and mobbing in school administration.
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