• Feb 20 Main
Women in Leadership Corner 9.2019
  • Women in Leadership: Taking Your Place at the Table

    with Greater Success  



    “...and I’d like to wish our Board President good luck in working with all these women.” Everyone laughed.


    For women in positions of leadership, the subtle indignations come frequently; they are often slight, without overt malice, and commonly disguised as a “joke.” Sometimes they barely register until a moment or two after they occur at which time, to point them out can be perceived as petty and an over-reaction. After all, no harm was meant… however, the message was clearly delivered. Or, even worse, comments such as this are just part of the culture thereby normalizing the behavior.


    In the heavily female laden profession of education, it is surprising to know that at the level of the superintendency only 26.7% are women.1 The reasons behind these statistics are varied and often acceptable but for those women who do aspire to the role, it makes the aspiration all the more daunting.


    Being in a position of leadership has its universal challenges, men and women alike face daily hurdles and trials. But being a woman in leadership has its own set of unique nuances that require particular strategies to be successful.



    Throughout New Jersey, women in educational leadership are coming together to share stories, strategies, and provide support for one another through the journey. NJASA and many individual counties have formed Women in Leadership groups specifically for this purpose. These groups can be invaluable in navigating the leadership minefield because there is always someone who has experienced the situation in which you might find yourself. These groups are not just for women who already occupy a leadership role in their districts but for women who have set their sights on being leaders in the future. As women, sometimes it is easy to allow life to keep us from becoming an active participant in these groups, which in turn prevents us from building a cadre of like-minded colleagues who can provide support and insight. Building a strong network of successful, like-minded women is an excellent first step.



    Every successful professional needs a mentor. Many of ours have been men without whom we would not be in the positions we are; these men are our allies and advocates and our gratitude for them is immeasurable. While women should continue to seek the counsel of these trusted colleagues, we would still challenge you to find a female mentor to add to your support system and to broaden your perspective. While the role of a superintendent can be an isolating one for anyone, having a female mentor allows women to hear the perspective from someone who has walked the path in their shoes, heels and all. Woman-to-woman mentoring allows us to share our stories and set expectations based on real-world experience within our realities as women. There is a sisterhood that comes from a mentor relationship which is vital if we want to increase the impact of female leaders.2

    Then, as you grow and develop in your position, be willing to reach down and grab the hand of a woman attempting to climb the leadership ladder and mentor her along the way. In fact, start looking for young women who may still be in high school or college. Providing young women with examples of successful, strong women allows them to visualize themselves achieving at a high level. If, as is said, it takes a village to raise a child, it certainly takes strong women to empower girls to reach their full potential.



    The best time to have a say in your salary and benefits package is at the beginning. Too often as women, our initial and immediate reaction to a job offer is gratitude. We tend to accept whatever we are offered, we fail to recognize our worth, we think we are lucky to have been offered the job in the first place.3 Without proper research, this could present a problem in the future should you come to realize that there is not parity or comparability with other administrators in the district or leaders in similar positions in nearby (and similarly situated) districts. If you don’t know your worth seek out advice, assistance, and knowledge from female leaders within your county, NJASA or other professional organizations, and public information like publicized salaries. Then, negotiate with confidence for compensation which is commensurate with said worth.



    Women are born nurturers; it is in our DNA. We are the first to jump in and help, the first to take on extra tasks to assist a friend, the first to add more onto our plates without thinking about our own well beings. As leaders, we already give of ourselves to those in our organization, often without being asked or instructed.

    Due to the inherent stress of leadership, it is easy for leaders, especially women, to fall into the Cycle of Sacrifice without ensuring that we spend equal amounts of time engaging in the Cycle of Renewal.4 If we fail to prioritize taking care of number one, no one else will. This leads to dissonance, unhealthy stress, and feelings of being ineffective. Finding time to engage in renewal and mindfulness daily allows us to break the Cycle of Sacrifice and be better leaders and women. 


    The quote which opened this article? It was spoken to an audience at a public Board of Education meeting which was being filmed for the local access cable channel to play on a loop, over and over for the next month.


    It’s 2020… and, yes, that happened. Only women can change that narrative by taking our place at the table and using our voices.




    1. AASA 2020 Decennial Study of the Superintendent Chris Rogers and Christopher Tienken, Ed.D., Principal Investigator Seton Hall University; PowerPoints of Policy and Advocacy Sessions at AASA's Annual National Conference February 2020;  2020 State of the Superintendency
    2. Chane, D. (2020), The Power of Female Mentors: Why We Need More Women Leading Today’s Workforce. Forbes Business Council.
    3. Brzezinski, M. (2018). Know Your Value. Hachette Books.
    4. Boyatzis, R. & McKee, A. (2005), Resonant Leadership. Harvard Business School Press.