"If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else."
– Booker T. Washington
“Another Committee?” “Another Networking Group?”
“Why Do We Need a Separate Group for Women?”
Because we know that there are still opportunity gaps for women in executive and management positions. Executive leadership models in industry demonstrate the importance of networking groups for female C-suite executives. These groups focus on collaboration and support. They show us that collaboration is necessary to create inclusive and supportive spaces where female leaders can learn from each other and support each other in attaining the skills necessary to lead and to bring others up with them. If the COVID-19 public education experience taught us anything, it is the benefit of communication in complex problem-solving.
“But it’s 2022, Do We Actually Still Need This?”
AASA’s statistics show that the percentage of female superintendents has doubled since the 1990s. A seemingly great feat, until you examine the numbers - the national percentage rose from a mere 6% to a similarly surprising 13.2%. In the United States, 87% of superintendents are male while 72% of the educational workforce is female. This drastic difference between leadership and the workforce is not mirrored in industry, yet industry has focused substantially more resources and time on creating a better support system and pipeline for female executives.
Working in education, a female-dominated field with a male-dominated leadership structure, it is especially important for women to lift and support other women: to amplify voices, lean in, and support each other. In educational leadership, there is something to be learned from this shared experience of being a woman in a traditionally male-oriented role. Our shared experiences empower us and connect us. Shared goals become clear in the same room, sharing common experiences, and learning from each other.
Educators see every day, the power of connections. We see it with our teachers in our classrooms every day, teachers connecting with students and creating a community of support. We see it with our own interactions with our teachers, parents, and students.
How Can We Empower and Support the Female Leaders in Our Region to do the Same?
Focusing on the need for connection, we developed a plan for a Warren-Hunterdon Women in Educational Leadership group in the midst of post-pandemic rebuilding. Starting a new community for female educational leaders at that time felt like we were taking on too much, but seeing the example set by other groups around the state, and the impact those groups had on supporting leaders as we do the impossible task of moving forward post-pandemic, we knew those of us working in the Northwest would benefit from such a community. We modeled our group after the highly successful Bergen County Women in Educational Leadership (BCWIEL) group.
We began with a steering committee, comprised of leaders from both Warren and Hunterdon County including superintendents, principals, supervisors, business administrators, other school leaders, and aspiring leaders interested in supporting each other and providing a platform for female leadership. We met at a diner, very appropriate for New Jersey networking, and began to plan events. It was obvious by the enthusiasm of the steering committee that this group is needed and will be a welcomed addition to our already busy schedules. The committee had so many ideas we could not possibly fit them all into one academic year, so we began a 3-year implementation plan, centered around the vision of supporting and communicating with others in our region. This work began with a book club choice, Becoming Your Best, by Steven R. Shallenberger to guide us as we set our vision and goals.
We are focusing on small events this summer including a golf outing for inexperienced and experienced golfers, a breakfast, and then on to an open meeting this fall to welcome new members and herald in a new school year. We will continue to partner with and model after BCWIEL as their model has become the gold standard for WIEL groups here in New Jersey.
We are excited to watch the impact of this additional system of support for women in leadership here in Warren/Hunterdon and will hold our first open meeting in October 2022, at Harker’s Hollow in Phillipsburg, NJ. The word of our new group has extended beyond Warren/Hunterdon, and we have been approached by leaders in surrounding counties asking to join us. We offer this invitation to you as well! Additional information is available through our chairs: Jeanene Dutt, North Warren Regional, and Jeanine DeFalco, Knowlton Township.