At the Margins No More: Centering Women in K-12 Leadership

Submission deadline date: 1 January 2025


Across the globe and via many different industries women remain underrepresented in leadership, and education is no different. For example, In Britain, 74% of teachers are women, but only 65% of headteachers are women. When we simultaneously consider race, gender, and school level, the numbers even more dismal. In 2021, of the 20,786 headteachers in England, only 1% were Black, and an even smaller percentage also identified as women. In my own context, the U.S., while women represent more than 77% of teachers, they represent 69% of elementary school principals and only 36% of high school principals (IES, 2021). Only 23% of principals in U.S. public schools were people of color, and only 7% are Black women. Given that high school leadership is often considered a steppingstone to the superintendency, it is perhaps not a surprise that only 29% of superintendents today are women (and even fewer are women of color), a percentage that has barely budged in 20 years. Similar disparities are present all over the world with women and particularly those with multiple minoritized identities consistently being overrepresented in teaching and underrepresented in leadership (OECD, 2017).

Moreover, these gaps seem to be growing or stagnating rather than shrinking over time. In her recent work on superintendent turnover by gender, White (2023) finds that women continue to be underrepresented in the field (1 out of 4 superintendents). She also points out that this gap is unlikely to close any time soon as districts tend to replicate these disproportionalities by hiring men over women again and again. Again, these patterns are prevalent globally, including in China, where women educators have less access to leadership and when they do, being repeatedly passed over in favour of male candidates (Cunningham et al., 2022).
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic had, and continues to have, a disproportionate negative effect on women and their careers across the globe. This is particularly in care-oriented fields like education. This is to say nothing about the continued issue of pay and women in educational leadership in virtually all contexts. For example, in 2018, female principals in the US, made, on average, $4,000 less than their male colleagues. The pay gap for female vs. male superintendents with the same amount of experience was more than $10,000 on average. This data is as ubiquitous as it is depressing, with women all over the world facing issues related to gender pay equity and access to leadership in schools and school systems.  

Clearly, current structures are not working as well as they could for women or their ability to thrive as educational leaders. Part of this has to do with external structures or the lack thereof. For example, more women are working and serving as their family’s breadwinner than in any other time in history, they still hold the bulk of domestic duties (Ciciolla & Luthar, 2019). This is just as true for single women as those who are partnered and/or with children (Hothschild & Machung, 2012). As a result of this work, they incur less flex time or, for those considering education leadership, less ability to attend the multitude events that school and district leaders are so often called to engage in (Weiner & Burton, 2016). 

At the same time, the impact of such discrimination on women’s access to and ability to thrive in the field is well-documented and includes but is not limited to; biased hiring practices (Bohnet, 2016), harsher, and, for women of colour racialized, critiques of their practice (Eagly & Karau, 2002; Rosette et al., 2019), less access to support and mentoring (Myung et al., 2011), and other forms of gender discrimination and gendered racism in situ (Aaron, 2020; Burton et al., 2020). Studies also show how all these elements manifest in the more winding and difficult career trajectories of women aiming to lead in education (Bailes & Guthery, 2021). 
Together, this work helps to illuminate why so many women in education leadership all over the world feel like they are standing at a precipice. What will the future of the field and women’s ability to thrive within it look like? Will the gains for women in the field so hard fought and still unevenly distributed based on race, ethnicity, and other marginalized identities slip away? How can we move to increase solidarity in this fight within and across nations? Is there a better path forward and how do we get on it? 

Answering such questions is critical for schools to become socially just institutions. However, while it feels like those who have long been doing work focused on these issues are getting more of the attention they so deserve, research focused on women in education leadership and their stories (like these women themselves) remain marginalized in the field. This special issue is meant to serve as a course correction. We need the same energy being paid to other crisis-level issues in education leadership to be paid to women and their experiences – because losing great women leaders and/or creating environments in which they cannot thrive or must work 10x harder to do so – is indeed a crisis. Moreover, we have a particular responsibility to do so in ways that does not reinforce stereotypes or tropes of women, but rather uplift their unique stories and experiences as well as trends in the field. This includes explicitly challenging how Eurocentrism and Whiteness has shaped the field and whose stories are elevated and shared as well as who gets to tell them. We need more international voices to ensure we can uplift one another and can share best practices in what undoubtedly will remain a struggle for years to come.

I am thrilled to use this platform to elevate the stories, voices and experiences of women in K-12 leadership from across the globe as those aiming to complicate, expand and otherwise push understandings of these experiences. 

List of topic areas

  • Feminization and Professional Stratification in and across the leadership pipeline
  • The exploitation of care work
  • Intersectionality and education leadership
  • Attending to the “Broken Rung” – pipeline practices to recruit, hire, and retain more female-identifying leaders
  • Reimagining a more inclusive model of education leadership
  • Other topics related to women and their ability to access and/or thrive in education leadership

Submissions Information

Submissions are made using ScholarOne Manuscripts. Registration and access are available here.

Author guidelines must be strictly followed.

Authors should select (from the drop-down menu) the special issue title at the appropriate step in the submission process, i.e. in response to "Please select the issue you are submitting to".

Submitted articles must not have been previously published, nor should they be under consideration for publication anywhere else while under review for this journal.

Key Deadlines

Opening date for manuscripts submissions: 1st July, 2024

Closing date for manuscripts submission: 1st January, 2025