Women’s Journeys to Educational Administration Positions
By Anne-Marie Merle
SSTA Research Centre Report #00-08: 40 pages, $11


Part I: A Review of the Literature 

Part II: Context and Process for this Study

Part III: Summary of the Findings 

Part IV: Conclusion, Implications and Recommendations



This report is a summary of a master's project by Anne-Marie Merle, University of Saskatchewan.  The purpose of the study was to examine the conditions and circumstances of women’s journeys to educational administration positions in rural Saskatchewan. Emphasis was given to the participants’ perceptions of the conditions which contributed to their appointments. 

The researcher found few studies related to women educational administrators in rural Saskatchewan. The study was designed to collect data from seven women - six white and one aboriginal - each of whom held a position of added responsibility as either a school board trustee, a division level program head, a principal or a vice-principal. 

The findings of this study indicate that women are interested in educational administration. In addition, women administrators tend to bring extensive classroom experience to their positions. Because women tend to be in a minority in administrative circles, those who do apply are clearly risk takers who are willing to take on the challenges of administrative responsibilities.

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Although the majority (63%) of Saskatchewan teachers are female (Saskatchewan Education, 1998), the 1998 Saskatchewan Education Indicators Report, an annual report to the citizens of Saskatchewan, states that only 17% of school principals are female, and estimates that 35-40% of school division trustees are female.
Many writers have considered the reasons for this gender imbalance in educational administration positions, but fewer writers have considered the conditions under which women overcame perceived barriers and achieved appointments to positions of added responsibility.
The 1994 Saskatchewan Education Indicators Report clearly states the importance of providing all students with both female and male leadership role models. “A measure of how well the education system is doing in attaining gender equity is the proportion of women in administrative positions” (p. 69).
For almost two decades, education in Saskatchewan has undergone sweeping changes in curriculum against a backdrop of declining provincial funding. The trend is to larger decentralized school divisions with increasing school based management. All citizens - students, teachers, parents, and the community -  expect to be included in education related decision making. The traditional hierarchical structure is undergoing change and must continue to do so. There is strong evidence to support the notion that the collaborative leadership characteristics needed to address problems in today’s schools are characteristics common to women administrators (Anderson, 1995; Maenette & Cooper, 1998; Shakeshaft, 1989; Shantz, 1993).
This document provides a summary of the research literature associated with the conditions and circumstances of significance in women's appointments to educational administrative positions.  In addition, this document reports a study (Merle, 1999) in which women in educational administration positions in a rural school division in northwest Saskatchewan were asked to identify factors which they percieved to have contributed to their success in acquiring educational administrative positions.

The context of a research question is of importance because the same set of factors can have different meanings in a different setting. The research question emerged from a literature review of primarily American sources which addressed the historical and cultural reasons for so few women in educational administration. Fewer resources are available about the women who actually are in administrative positions, and the reasons for their success in obtaining these positions, especially in Canadian settings. Some Masters of Educational Administration students, however, have used Saskatchewan settings for their projects or theses (Fornal, 1995; Pura, 1991; Casswell-Beckman, 1992; Anderson, 1995).
In addition, much often quoted research is based on data collected in the 1970s or 1980s. For example, for Charol Shakeshaft’s (1989) Women in Educational Administration, she attempted to bring together as much as possible what was known about women in administration up to 1985. Two reference books by Ortiz and Pope (1982) have titles that refer to the career patterns of administrators, but are based on research conducted in the 1970s. The responses of women in educational administration positions in a rural Saskatchewan school division in the 1990s will develop and extend basic knowledge about women in administrative roles.

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Part I: A Review of the Literature

A examination of literature relevant to women’s journeys to educational administration positions must recognize the historical, social and cultural context, the backdrop against which both barriers to, and support for, women in leadership have played out. Although this literature review focuses on literature about women’s experiences, and accepts gender as a category of those experiences, there is recognition that men can learn as well in the same way that women have learned from men’s experiences. Regan and Brooks (1995) wrote, “We believe each gender can learn from the experiences of the other if the experiences of the other are articulated and disseminated widely” (p. 17). Regan and Brooks continued this theme when they stated “From the beginning, we have asserted that knowledge created from women’s experience is accessible to both women and men, in the same way that knowledge created from men’s experience became accessible to women once they had access to education” (p. 95).
For several hundred years, writers have considered the experiences of women and their roles in society. This literature review spans only a decade of these writings, and a limited selection of those related to women’s journeys to educational administration positions in a North American setting. Regan and Brooks (1995) acknowledged these accumulated writings when they stated “we stand in a long line of women who, for centuries, have analyzed the world using gender as a category of experience” (p. xvi).
Since European missionaries first established church schools in the last century, the structure of our schools has remained essentially the same. In 1847, the Quincy Grammar School was built in Boston. The first fully graded school in the United States, it was representative of the standard type of elementary school erected in cities. Lowe (1991), however, stated that “Many rural areas continued to group all grades into one-room schoolhouses well into the twentieth century” (p. A4). In fact, in Saskatchewan, 5 000 one room school houses existed in 1950. From 1951 - 1971, 2 750  of these schools closed as the province, in response to changing socio-economic conditions, implemented The Larger School Units Act, 1944, and moved to larger centralized schools (Stabler & Olfert, 1996).
 In the early days of schooling, the teacher was responsible for administrative duties as well as teaching. As schools became more complex, the duties were separated as a part of the bureaucratic restructuring of schools. When Regan and Brooks describe early women writers’ work concerned with women’s place in society, they highlight the fact that “The structure of modern organizations, of which schools are one form, is a 20th-century phenomenon, and so our sisters were not confronted with the problem of making sense of organizational life as we have been” (p. 89).

Most literature about women in educational administration focuses on school based or division level administrators; little is available about female trustees. Mawhinney and LaRocque (1995) undertook a study of female school trustees when they realized that regarding women school trustees, “their unique experiences have not been the focus of extensive academic inquiry” (p. 226) and that “Our research suggests, however, that despite a typical nod to the issue, much of the literature on trustees and effective leadership does not look through the lens of gender” (p. 231).
Our school divisions are increasingly diverse with students from a wide range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Future leaders need both flexibility to adapt to changes and a willingness to meet the challenges facing schools. The following literature review will help to identify factors supportive of women’s appointments to educational administration positions and develop the importance of women in educational leadership positions as we move to the 21st century.

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Gender Equity Initiatives in Saskatchewan
The 1990s have seen a number of gender equity policies and initiatives from education partners. An underlying theme in these policies appears to be an acceptance of the importance of providing all students with both female and male leadership role models.

Saskatchewan Education Gender Equity Policy
The Saskatchewan Education Gender Equity Policy (1991) arose from a need to ensure that all students, female and male, were provided equal educational opportunities. The policy states that schools and divisions are encouraged to see that schools are gender equitable in all respects, including curriculum and employment. In addition, school environments are to be structured so that all who work and learn in those environments see both genders “in a variety of traditional and non-traditional roles . . . male and female administrators” (p. 11).

Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Gender Equity Policy
At Spring Council in 1993, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation adopted a Gender Equity Policy in support of Saskatchewan Education. Specifically the STF policy focuses on leadership positions. Section 6.3 states that collaborative, nurturing and empowering models of administration, those qualities which research has shown to be a part of female administrative styles (Helgesen, 1990; Shantz, 1993; Shakeshaft, 1989), be criteria for all administrative positions. Section 6.5 recognizes that many teachers provide leadership outside the scope of formal administrative positions, and validates the need to provide recognition to those leaders. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the STF gender equity policy is the recognition that “the more formally respected the positions, the more likely they are to be filled by men. Further among these positions, those with remuneration are even more likely to be occupied by men” (p. 7). For Saskatchewan teachers to increase their incomes, they must increase their training or experience, or move to administrative positions which provide additional allowances. As long as the bulk of administrative positions are held by men, the average income of female teachers will remain lower than that of males of comparable training and experience.

LEADS Gender Equity Policy
The League of Educational Administrators, Directors and Superintendents Gender Equity Policy (1991), “Equality of Opportunity: A Vision for the Future”, (as cited in Fornal, 1995), emphasized that in interviewing, both instructional ability and leadership ability should be assessed, and that potential, not gender, be encouraged.

Equity in Education Forum
The most recent initiative in Saskatchewan was the Equity in Education Working Committee (1994) formed to advise Saskatchewan Education on equity issues. The committee has since expanded to include representatives from LEADS (League of Educational Administrators, Directors and Superintendents), SSTA (Saskatchewan School Trustees Association), STF (Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation), Saskatchewan Education, Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, Gabriel Dumont Institute, and the Colleges of Education from both the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan. In August 1977, the committee, renamed Equity in Education Forum, released the document Our Children, Our Communities and Our Future: Equity in Education, Policy Framework. This document is a shared statement of policy, vision, objectives and principles to ensure education equity across the province. The policy builds on the 1984 Directions report from Saskatchewan Education which stated that each person in a school is to be valued in a supportive atmosphere which combines caring and respect with learning activities.
Section III.2 of this policy addresses the challenge of ensuring equitable employment opportunities by reporting the statistics regarding the gender imbalance in both teaching and administration. While there are more men in administrative positions than women, while women continue to comprise over 60% of the teaching force, the numbers of male primary teachers is alarmingly low, 10.9% in 1995-96.
Regarding women in educational leadership positions in Saskatchewan, this policy clearly states vision and principles. In the future, the Forum will shift to implementing the framework, to identifying indicators to evaluate the ways in which equity is working, and to developing support materials to help schools and divisions.

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Characteristics of Women in Leadership Positions

Shakeshaft (1989) profiled the typical woman in an educational leadership position as white, in her mid to late 40’s, either firstborn or raised in a two-parent family with three or fewer siblings, usually married and a mother, and coming from a rural area. She was a member of primarily educational organizations but sometimes other community groups. She entered administration later in life, often at the suggestion of someone else, following extensive experience as a teacher or educational specialist.
Shantz (1993) outlined evidence that women administrators are strong at fostering collaboration, sharing power equitably, vision building, collegiality and encouraging risk taking. In 1988, Ortiz and Marshall (as cited in Shantz, 1993) said women are oriented to caring, and have a caring, nurturing leadership style. Marshall and Mitchell’s study (as cited in Shantz, 1993) stated that “female administrators have a greater preference for activities related to instructional leadership and communication.” Shantz summarized by saying that female leadership characteristics promote collaborative cultures, considered necessary to address problems in today’s schools.
Rogers (1989) used the lens of women’s world view and its connection to leadership. According to Rogers, the female world view includes affiliation, cooperation, empathy with others, an ethos of love and caring, nonviolence, interconnectedness, listening to others and encouraging them to express their feelings, duty, respect for all persons, and a reliance on intuitive wisdom. Emerging thought on leadership styles identifies the importance of valuing the contributions of each member of the group, distribution of leadership responsibilities, negotiating conflicts, and the use of emotions and intuition in problem solving, characteristics in harmony with women’s world view.
Regan and Brooks (1995) defined leadership attributes as feminist, that is, coming from women’s experiences, or feminine, that is, given to women by their role in the culture. Feminist attributes include collaboration, caring, courage, intuition and vision. Feminine attributes include nurturance, compassion and care. As Helgesen (1990) found, a recurring theme for women leaders is their concern with relationships.

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Barriers to Women in Educational Administration

Since women educators in Saskatchewan have equal access to all levels of education, have training and experience comparable to men, and have legislative protection against discrimination based on gender, why are there still so few women in educational administration in our schools?

Conditions and circumstances perceived to have restricted women’s entrance into educational administration - these so-called "barriers" - have been examined through research and investigations into the way in which organizations work and evolve.

The socialization processes in which females and males learn the behaviours expected of them based on their gender has been considered a restriction to women in the field of educational administration as well as a reason for their underrepresentation in administrative positions (Restine, 1993). The result of the socialization process has been sex role stereotypes for both women and men (Storey and Zellinsky, 1993) and bias towards women in terms of their role in our society. Women are still considered the primary caregivers for children.

Several writers view barriers to women in administration through the veil of patriarchy and the hierarchy of androcentric bias (Shakeshaft, 1989; Storey and Zellinsky, 1993; Slauenwhite and Skok, 1991). Shakeshaft (1989) defines androcentric as "the practice of viewing the world and shaping reality from a male perspective.  It is the elevation of the masculine to the level of the universal and the ideal, and the honouring of men and the male principle above women and female" (p. 94).  Although based on the assumption that women function like men, this androcentric viewpoint has created a hierarchy of status with men and women occupying different places with different rules. The resulting discrimination can be overt or covert.

The hierarchy of the bureaucratic structure of educational organizations is considered a restriction to women in educational administration (Slauenwhite and Skok, 1991; Storey and Zellinsky, 1993). While there are lots of opportunities for women at lower levels, there are relatively few at the upper, hiring positions of greater power.

Another category of barriers to women in educational administration is based on the assumption that teaching is separate from administration.  Shakeshaft (1989) used a Discrimination Model to explain this assumption in which women have been excluded from administration, perpetuating the belief that women teach and men manage.

Myths about women’s interest in, and ability for, educational leadership positions persist. The perception that there are few qualified women interested in administrative positions is another barrier to women in educational administration (Restine, 1993). The reality is that women are interested in educational administrative positions. At the 1999 Saskatchewan Principals’ Summer Short Course, 45 % of the participants were female (F. Roberts, personal communication, July 25, 1999).

Role discrimination can be subtle. Nixon (as cited in Slauenwhite and Skok, 1991) said that women are discriminated against when they are denied access to being part of the male network, or by how they are treated, for example, by being expected to clean up after meetings.

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Saskatchewan Studies on Barriers to Women in Educational Administration

In a 1991 thesis, Pura explored the theme of barriers faced by women in education to determine if women graduates from the University of Saskatchewan Educational Administration faculty faced barriers to career advancement and if so, what were the barriers. While the participants had the perception that they had faced barriers of family responsibilities, the traditional idea that males are administrators, and discrimination faced when males dominate the hiring level of school divisions, the participants did have the sense that they had overcome these barriers by increasing their own professional knowledge, learning from role models and mentors, networking, and attending administrative workshops and courses.

Fornal (1995) tracked the participants in one gender equity initiative, a leadership development program in a large urban school division in Saskatchewan. Fornal concluded that in this situation, women were not being encouraged to apply for administrative positions, were not being interviewed, and were not being promoted as readily as men. Fornal also found an inability in those hiring to accept a less traditional view of an administrator and saw a need for a new vision of more balanced management teams. Fornal said that for women, external encouragement, from family and from male administrators, was important because there are few female role models.

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Factors Contributing to Women’s Successful Appointments

Women principals have addressed barriers to administrative appointments through educational preparation in the form of graduate level studies (Hill and Raglund, 1995; Shakeshaft, 1989; Young, 1993). McGrath (1992) wrote that since women tend to bring extensive experience to administrative positions, “Administrative women tend to possess more expert information than men because they’ve had more classroom experience. In an age that is refocusing attention on the teaching process, women in leadership will be a valuable asset” (p. 65). Leadership skills like delegating, setting priorities, negotiating and listening can be gained by experiences on curriculum or professional development committees, or through being a specialist or program head.
Many women come to administration in non-traditional ways (Pura, 1991; Hill and Raglund, 1995). Women tend to enter administration later than men (Young, 1993; Shakeshaft, 1989), often because of women’s role as primary caregivers for children (Gill, 1998). When both partners work outside the home, women still tend to do more of the household chores. Later entry to administration is a way to reduce the pressures of combining family and work. Although women may seem less experienced as a result, Paddock (as cited in Young, 1993) suggested that many of the skills acquired through attention to family responsibilities, such as organizing, delegating, setting priorities, listening, juggling competing demands, negotiating and nurturing, are in fact important skills for educational administrators. The results of Young’s study of four Western Canadian women educators (as cited in Mawhinney and LaRocque, 1995) confirm the need “for new models of career which emphasize individual growth and adaptability and take into account the interrelations between the knowledge and experience acquired from formal paid roles such as teaching and from volunteer work or unpaid work in the home” (p. 231).
A second explanation for women’s later entry into administration relates to women’s perceptions of their own abilities. Nancy Badore, interviewed by Helgesen (1990), said “I find it often takes women ten years longer than men to realize how good they really are. I don’t think you can make a contribution until you’ve moved beyond wondering if you’re good enough”.

Increased visibility through leadership roles in community and professional activities (Young, 1993; Storey and Zellinsky, 1993) are factors perceived to contribute to administrative appointments.

Because there are few female role models in administrative positions, the encouragement of male principals is important to females interested in administration (Fornal, 1995), especially in rural areas (Thibault, 1992). Pope (1982) and Pura (1991) stressed the importance of encouragement from female administrators. Fleming (1995) and Slauenwhite and Skok (1991) wrote of the importance of encouragement from both male and female colleagues.

While several writers have described participation in a network of educational administrators as a factor contributing to the advancement of women in administration (Fleming, 1991; Gill, 1998; Slauenwhite and Skok, 1991), many women face difficulties entering such a network because of the traditional concept of educational administration being a male domain. For Colwill (as cited in Gill, 1998), the informal power of the ‘old boys club’ is the issue. For women to have equal access to positions in educational administration, they must break into these power networks. Only by open acknowledgment of the power of these traditional male networks, will their power be diminished.

Fleming (1991) defines mentoring as “an intense caring relationship in which an older experienced person (mentor) sponsors a younger promising associate to promote professional and personal development of the younger associate” (p. 27). Fleming advocates mentoring as a way of removing barriers by explaining the unwritten rules and expectations of a system, as well as a way of providing practical, hands-on knowledge.

In the women she interviewed, Helgesen (1990) found a sense of fate in their attitudes to the development of their careers. “Where I’m supposed to be next: clearly an element of trust is at work here; also a sense of fate, a conviction of destiny that is anything but passive” (p. 59).  Feminine intuition is the label often used for these insightful experiences.

Young (1993) and Anderson (1995) found that women in administrative positions had recognized and acted on an opportunity  for a new challenge. Young considered this willingness to respond to an opportunity to be a strong resource. Hall (as cited in Young, 1993), said that “Flexibility, insight, resilience, and a willingness to take risks are more important aids than ten-year plans. Individuals - and organizations - must be able to adjust to changing, frequently unpredictable realities”.

Regan and Brooks (1995) pointed out:

Mawhinney and LaRocque (1995), who undertook a study of three female trustees in Alberta and Ontario from November 1993 to January 1994, found that the women did not have career plans but rather responded to the challenge offered in these positions.

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Part II: Context and Process for this Study

This research study was undertaken in Saskatchewan, essentially a rural province. Sixty-two per cent of the province’s population lives outside of the two largest cities, each of whose population is approximately 200,000. The next largest cities have populations of approximately 30,000.

Each of seven women who participated in the study held a position of added responsibility, that is, responsibility for the students and staff in either a school or a school division. A written questionnaire and a personal interview with semi-structured questions were the data collection tools used. As part of the personal interview, participants were asked to reflect on their journeys to educational administrative positions as well as advice for other female educational administrators.

The written questionnaire concerned personal information about participants’ age, marital status, highest level of education, work experience, and experience in professional organizations and community groups.

The semi-structured interview questions concerned personal and professional characteristics, and life experiences perceived to have contributed to an administrative appointment. Participants were asked to explain their reasons for applying for administrative positions and what they expected the future to hold for women in administration in this school division. Finally the women were asked to reflect on the role that their gender played in this process.

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Part III: Summary of the Findings

Results of the Written Questionnaire

The results of the written questionnaire provided a background profile of the educational leadership positions in the school division in which the study was set. The ‘typical’ woman in educational leadership in this school division was a married white woman in her 40s, with adult children. Her highest level of education was a Masters of Education degree in Educational Administration. She had a variety of work experiences which had involved administrative tasks or caring for others, and twelve years of work experience related to education. She was involved in professional organizations, as well as service and cultural groups within the community.

More specifically, the participants’ ages were in the 30s, 40s or 60s. Four of the seven women were married; the others single. Although one woman was the mother of a toddler, the children of the other women were all over eighteen years of age. Four of the women held a Masters of Education degree; one woman was working on the completion of her Masters Degree. Two of the women held certificates in specialty fields including lay preaching, palliative care and insurance broking.

The recurring themes in the women’s past employment experiences were that previous positions involved administrative responsibilities and the care of others, for example, as an office manager, a church administrator, a bookkeeper, a teacher aide or a social worker. The participants’ years of work experience related to education ranged from eight to seventeen years. The participants who were school board trustees had held their positions from eight to sixteen years; principals, from one to five years; and vice-principals, from one to six years. The participant who was a division level program head had two years of experience in that position.

All of the women were heavily involved in professional organizations and community groups at both local and provincial levels. In addition to holding memberships in these groups, some of the women had also served as board members and executive members.

Although school board trustees did not require a particular level of education in order to be elected, both the division program head and the school based administrators indicated that a Masters degree was a requirement for their positions. In addition, the school based administrators believed that their successful teaching experience in unique situations like special education and multi-graded classrooms contributed to their appointments. All participants considered skills related to public relations, computers and office management, as well as leadership skills gained in activities such as professional development, to have been factors which contributed to an administrative appointment.

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Results of the Interviews
Recurring Themes
From the analysis of the participants’ responses to the interview questions, a number of themes emerged as being both supportive of, and limiting to, their journeys to administrative positions. The participants expressed several common goals and challenges as they considered what the future held for both themselves and for other women in educational administration in this division.
Gender. Gender emerged as the underlying experience which had an impact on every step of the journey to an educational administrative position beginning with the initial decision to enter the field of education. Frequently the participants described the ways in which their journeys had been influenced by society’s expectations of what women should be doing. As young women, their career choices appeared limited to teaching or nursing, work which involved the nurturing of, and caring for, others. In addition, they were raised in the context of a society in which women did the teaching and men did the administering of schools. The women in the study, however, viewed administration as an extension of teaching, that is, continuing to work with children because of wanting to make a difference in their lives. Women who entered administration later in their careers had done so because of the expectations placed on them to be the primary caregivers of their own young children. Whether or not they were mothers, the women talked of being socialized to be nurturers, and as a part of this process, single women, for example, found themselves caring for aging parents or needy adult siblings.

The most frequently stated personal qualities that the participants perceived to have influenced their journey to educational administration were conflict mediation skills, communication skills and an ability to see more that one side of an issue before making a decision. Gender emerged again when participants stated that as women, we are socialized to be peacekeepers and mediators. As one participant said, “We have all been conditioned not to fight, to fear anger, to mediate - your role as a woman is the peacekeeper and the caregiver. I think that’s why I’m so strong in those areas”. Five of the seven participants in this study were emphatic in stating that they had experienced overt gender discrimination related to their administrative experiences and appointments.

Response to an opportunity. Most of the participants considered administration at a time in their lives when they needed a new direction. Because of skills gained through both teaching and other leadership experiences, the women were confident in their abilities and felt ready for a new challenge involving the opportunity to influence the direction of education. The time “seemed right” and the women were willing to take a risk by responding to an unexpected opportunity, seeing this as part of their destiny. In considering whether they could have done anything to have been appointed sooner, the participants were hesitant in their responses; while they could have looked for positions sooner, they had not felt ready to do so.

Family roles. The role played within the family, whether as child or adult, provided the participants with experiences useful for educational administration. For example, participants described how being part of an extended family with a variety of ages provided the opportunity to better understand the viewpoints of many age groups, an understanding useful with their staffs who were at different career stages. The mothers among the participants indicated that they learned to manage multiple roles through the balancing act required of working mothers.

Involvement in community and professional groups.  While visibility in the school division through professional organizations and community groups was considered to have been helpful in gaining administrative appointments, the participants also believed that the leadership experiences they gained in these groups helped with administrative skills.

Teaching. Through teaching in a variety of challenging situations, for example, in a triple graded classroom, participants learned how to be efficient, effective, and organized, as well as how to set goals on a yearly basis.

Support of others. All participants described the support and encouragement of family, friends and colleagues - both female and male - in their journeys to educational administrative positions. Five participants indicated that their male directors had been strong supporters of their move to administration. However, the women also pointed out that because there were few women in upper administrative positions to act as mentors, male supporters were critically important in encouraging them to apply for administrative positions. Married women indicated that their husbands and children supported their decisions to apply for these non-traditional positions, and that they were conscious of setting an example for their own daughters and sons about what women could do.

Restrictions to career advancement. Although most of the participants in the study had completed the demands of the Masters Degree program and held positions of influence in both professional and community groups, a lack of self-confidence was frequently identified as a restriction to career aspirations. In addition, family responsibilities, whether or not the women were mothers, and a lack of professional credentials were considered to have limited participants’ advancement in educational administration. Women suggested that because of society’s well established ideas about men being administrators, women frequently needed to be better qualified than men in order to be perceived as being of equal ability.

Goals and challenges. Most participants had no specific career goals, preferring to wait and see what opportunities might arise. Having met the requirements of a graduate studies program, others were ready to take short courses and to extend established school wide initiatives. One trustee outlined a division wide goal of encouraging the whole community to take more responsibility for the education of youth.

In considering future challenges for women in administrative positions in this division, the recurring thread was again gender related. The proportion of women in administrative positions does not reflect the proportion of female staff and students. In the face of declining financial resources and an increasingly aboriginal student population, women administrators - along with their male colleagues - will need to articulate to central office the changing demands on schools. Women administrators will need courage to speak up on behalf of both students and staff, voicing their unique perspectives. One trustee stated that women will be expected to be able to look to the future with vision, and to ask for help as well as present alternative solutions to problems. In addition, women can expect that they will need to continue to juggle the demands of administrative responsibilities with the demands of family.

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The Influence of Personal and Professional Qualities on the Journey to Educational Administration

Participants were often unable to make a distinction between personal and professional qualities. As one woman stated, “I don’t think these qualities are distinct - at home, they’re very much a part of me”.

Conflict management skills. Socialized to mediate and to be peacekeepers and caregivers, the participants indicated that they had the skills necessary to resolve difficult situations involving both students and adults. They were known as people who could help solve problems through discussion. In problem solving, they were able to see many dimensions of an issue, to consider other people’s viewpoints, and to consider all the facts before proceeding with making a decision. Once a decision was made, they were able to follow through and organize so that the plan would be carried out.

“People skills”. Because of the prominence of their administrative positions, the women in this study were often the first ones contacted regarding problems. “If that contact’s not good, then nothing much good happens,” said one woman. What the participants referred to as their “people skills”, that is, qualities that enabled the women to relate to people and to work effectively in a variety of situations, included being helpful, friendly, approachable with “an open door policy”, trustworthy, open and honest. The participants were able to keep sensitive matters confidential. Committed to teaching, these women consistently focused on what was “best for kids”.

Communication skills. Both verbal and written communication skills were considered assets in attaining administrative positions.

Taking control of situations. Participants felt that an ability to take control and reliably complete tasks with organization and efficiency contributed to their appointments. They were not afraid to confront difficult tasks such as facing unhappy parents, going to court, or challenging agencies to be more helpful, especially if the tasks were in support of children.

Leadership skills. Leadership experiences in other professional organizations and community groups were considered to have been helpful in obtaining administrative appointments, especially when these activities increased visibility within the school division. These leadership activities included presenting workshops, participating in professional development, mentoring teachers new to a school or to a division, and being both knowledgeable and willing to learn.

Family responsibilities. Some circumstances on the journey to educational administration positions were of influence in a limiting way. The restrictions of family responsibilities took many forms. One woman described having to give up what she had accomplished in a position when her husband’s career required a move to another city. Caring for aging parents or needy siblings who lived outside the community needed a lot of time.

On the other hand, some participants described positive learning experiences gained through family roles. One woman felt that through her role as a wife and a mother, she had learned to be sensitive to the needs of her husband and children; she believed that because of this experience, she was more sensitive in decision making, not willing to consider only “cold hard facts”.

Society’s attitudes to women. Society’s attitudes towards women’s place and abilities were perceived to have been restrictions on career advancement for women in educational administration. Participants believed that: “Men, including teachers, are threatened by female administrators”. One participant made the distinction: “It’s not so much the attitude to hiring women but rather the attitude that women are not considered equal to men”. One participant suggested that the few female administrators at the secondary level and at elementary schools perceived to be more difficult, reflect an attitude that those schools have “too may challenges for a woman to handle”. Being a female administrator was considered a hindrance in applying for positions in secondary schools or larger schools. One school based administrator stated: “I’m guessing that if I applied to a large school in this division, I would need to be really really really good. I believe there’s an old boys club of which we will never be a part--not that I want to be part of it--but it will hinder us”. Another participant concluded:

Lack of self confidence. While several participants referred to lack of self confidence as having restricted their journeys to educational administration, they felt that they were gaining in confidence with each year of administrative experience especially because of their experiences ‘being female in a male world”. One participant stated an unanticipated positive result of this lack of self confidence: “My insecurities make me very analytical of situations and I don’t make many impulsive decisions. I’m a detail person most of the time”.

Lack of qualifications. A lack of professional credentials was considered by some participants to have been a hindrance to their attainment of an administrative position; one school board member, for example, wished she had an education degree and classroom experience to be better able to understand issues.

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The Influence of Gender on the Journey to Educational Administration

Socialization. Most participants indicated that they were raised believing that females are nurturers, responsible for keeping people happy. One participant stated: “I think women are trained at an early age to know the needs of everybody around them; we learn how to assess a situation, and whether or not we know what the feelings are, we certainly know what’s needed”. One trustee recalled a controversial situation in which, as one of the first women on what had traditionally been a male-dominated board, she had backed down on a decision. When she later analyzed her actions, she realized that she had changed her mind because of the uniqueness of her position. In concluding her story, she stated: “I never did that again”.

Although most participants were encouraged by their parents to have careers that would enable them to be self supporting, these parents did not suggest that their daughters consider management positions. In choosing careers, the women recalled being limited to teacher, nurse or secretary. One participant, however, whose mother had been an administrator in a postsecondary educational institution from the time the participant was a young child, always expected to be in a management position, regardless of her career choice.

Career direction. Gender was a significant factor in the decision both to choose a career in teaching and to consider an administrative position. One participant explained:

Gender also influenced specializations within education. One participant said: Participants recognized that current conditions were more supportive of women being in educational administrative positions, that it is a “politically correct time” for women to be appointed. “The old foundation of education is starting to crumble and crack,” said one participant. “There’s a little crack in there now and women are able to get through. I’m prepared to take advantage of that.”

Experiences with gender discrimination. When asked if they had experienced gender discrimination on their journeys to educational administration, five of the seven participants answered emphatically and without any hesitation with responses such as “Yes, I have”, “Absolutely--no doubt”, or “Oh, most definitely”. The participants had experienced both overt and covert discrimination. Following her administrative appointment, one woman was told by a male colleague: “You only got the job because you’re a woman”. Another described being in an administrative situation in which a woman responded with strong emotion, and a man commented: “It must be the wrong time of the month”. One trustee described meetings with politicians:

How women’s journeys differ from men’s. Several of the participants in the study referred to attitudes in society regarding women’s place and abilities. One participant said: “I really believe that in order for a female administrator to arrive at the same spot as a male administrator, the female has to do twice as good a job”. Another woman stated the same sentiment from a different viewpoint: “Communities view women in administration differently; there is always an element who feel that a female can’t do the job”.

Women were also conscious of attitudes suggesting that in this politically correct time, they were appointed to administrative positions because of their gender. One participant explained:

The participants also shared their perceptions of male and female attitudes to teaching and its connection to administration. They believe that males see teaching as a stepping stone to administration, often applying for administrative positions with little teaching experience. “I’ve seen that on a number of occasions both when I was taking graduate studies classes and now when I see what is happening out in the profession”, explained one participant. Women, on the other hand, were perceived to prefer becoming master teachers first and then entering administration as an expansion of their teaching role.

Because there are few women with whom to connect in educational administrative positions, women in this study did not feel that they were part of the established male administrative network, the “old boys club”. The participants had observed that males in administration knew “every person who’s applying for a job, who’s going where, who’s been shortlisted”. The women participants in this study were very conscious of not having other women to encourage them. “I’m not part of the old boys club - I’d say that says it all”, stated one participant. The participants felt they were alone more than male administrators because they did not have like-minded colleagues for support; in addition, getting home to be a mom often took precedence over socializing after work with colleagues.

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Reasons for Considering Educational Administration Positions

For most participants, the decision to apply for an administrative position was made at a time in their lives when they were ready for a new challenge. In addition, the women in this study wanted to influence the direction of a school or a school division.

Influencing the direction of education. The school board trustees who participated in the study viewed their involvement on the board as a way to make a contribution to the education of their own children. They also felt that they could make a difference and influence the direction of changes they felt needed to be made within the school division. They considered their trustee role to be very important. One trustee said, “I don’t take being a school trustee very lightly”.

Another participant in the study made a career move to education following her frustration with the legal and social services systems through her work as a social worker; she saw education as a place where she could make a difference in the lives of children. In turn, she saw educational administration as providing the opportunity to have greater influence on a school’s direction.

Ready for a new direction. For most participants, the timing in applying for an administrative position felt “right”. They had acquired a variety of work experience through teaching, through postgraduate education, and other work experiences and leadership positions. They wanted to learn as much as possible about education, and an opportunity related to administration would provide a different learning experience. They felt confident that they could take control of a school, for instance, and do a good job. In fact, one participant stated that she could not imagine anyone else doing a better job. For other participants, they had recently completed either a Masters program or an executive position with a professional organization, and needed a new direction. Several stated that although apprehensive about the challenge offered by an administrative position, they were willing to take a risk. Many participants described the need for new challenges in their lives, challenges that could be met through the responsibilities of an administrative position.

Faith and destiny. Some participants combined their personal faith in a Greater Power and a sense of destiny with the timing of an application for administration. One participant explained her decision this way:

Another participant explained: Status. The status of an administrative position was not ignored by the participants. Especially for those who lacked self confidence, membership within the administrative circle increased visibility in both the school division and the community, and contributed to feelings of self esteem.

Unsuccessful applications. Three of the participants had been unsuccessful in previous applications for administration and attributed their lack of success on those occasions to being unprepared for the interview, to having applied because others encouraged them to do so even though they did not feel ready, to applying for a position at a school considered “too tough for a woman”, and to being unprepared for the political process involved in running for a position as a school trustee.

When considering whether they could have been appointed sooner to administrative positions, participants said they could have been actively looking for administrative positions sooner, they could have started graduate studies sooner, or they could have “played more games like networking”. However, the participants went on to say, they weren’t particularly interested in administrative positions much earlier in their careers. Experience, especially in teaching, was considered more important.

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Life Experiences of Influence on the Journey to Educational Administration

Gender. Participants themselves identified gender as a category of their life experiences. One participant stated: “The life experiences that prepared me for administrative responsibilities are some of the ways that women are socialized to take care of people, to take care of problems, and to make everybody happy and able to get along.”

Motherhood. Through raising their own (sometimes difficult) children, these women had learned to solve problems, to manage conflicts, to be organized, to delegate tasks, to make significant decisions, and to articulate a vision - skills required as educational administrators. The participants in this study were very conscious of being role models for their own children. One participant said, “I always wanted to instil in my sons the belief that we’re all equal, that we can all strive to be at the top, and that there’s no guy that’s better than a girl.”

Family connections. Several participants described how their parents stressed the importance of expanding their education beyond grade twelve in order to be self supporting and independent. In addition, they were raised to believe that everyone has the right to express an opinion and that we have a responsibility to listen to others’ opinions.

One dimension of family life which the participants in this study identified to be of significance in their journeys to administrative positions was communication. For one woman, English was not the first language she learned. She explained that when she started to school:

Their place in the family in relation to siblings helped participants to learn different skills. As the middle child who took on the peacekeeper role in the family, one participant learned conflict management skills. Women who were the oldest child in the family often took on a parent role, for example, “looking after mom and my sisters when my father was sick”. Another participant, whose parents died at an early age, assumed nurturing responsibilities for her siblings. As a result, she learned to look carefully at the pros and cons of any decision: “Since I didn’t have parent support, I had to be very careful; otherwise my decisions could come back and bite me”. Another woman described how the experiences provided by a large extended family with both young and old family members had prepared her for better understanding how people change at different life stages. She had observed that through aging: Educational background. While participants in this study recognized that practical experience was an important way of acquiring knowledge, formal education was seen to provide unique learning experiences. One participant explained: “Academics will give you keys to open doors so that you can not only better see the challenges, you can better understand how to face the challenges”. The entire process of completing a formal program of study helped participants learn to set goals. Graduate studies classes also provided the opportunity “to discuss issues in a way in which you could look at all sides without having to be on a side”.

Support from others. The five participants in this study who were school based administrators or division level staff identified their male directors as providing significant support in their journeys to educational administrative appointments. Directors had shown support in accepting participants recommendations related to past decisions. They had taken time, not to tell administrators what should have been done, but to discuss issues and explain community viewpoints.

Both male and female colleagues, coworkers as well as those met in other professional groups, provided support and encouragement for the participants as they considered applying for administrative positions. One participant’s male principal encouraged her by telling her not to give up if she was not successful with the first application. Another participant chose to speak to her female vice-principal rather than her male principal when considering whether or not to apply for an administrative position. She explained: “It was more of a comradeship of womanhood; with my principal, I could never break that barrier”. Siblings and friends - both within and outside educational circles - husbands and children, were others who provided encouragement for the participants to apply for administrative positions.

Teaching experience. Diverse experiences in classroom teaching were perceived to have influenced the journey to an administrative appointment. Some participants had chosen to teach a variety of grades in order to learn more about teaching. Another described how, in a previous division, she had been required to submit a yearly plan which included both personal and professional development goals as well as goals related to meeting curriculum requirements. This experience helped her to be more focused in teaching and to become a master teacher. As a result of these diverse experiences, participants had a broad perspective of the school system.

Experience in other settings. Combining teaching with other leadership activities meant that some participants had learned how to manage several roles at the same time. One woman explained how when she was a member of a provincial executive:

Through positions of leadership in professional organizations and community groups, women had learned administrative skills related to working with organizations. These skills included chairing meetings, delegating, volunteering, following through on decisions, improving on decisions that did not work as well as clerical and public relations skills. Especially in male dominant situations, the participants had learned to be courageous in adversarial situations. Through her role as a Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation councillor, one woman had not only sharpened her conflict management skills, but also had gained a better understanding of the viewpoint of the school boards. Dealing with superiors who liked to sidetrack the issues was considered particularly good experience.

Other experiences listed as providing skills useful for administrative responsibilities included playing competitive sports, being a team captain, coaching a variety of elementary school sports even when you didn’t know much about them, having an intern teacher, and working with other teachers through peer coaching.

Visibility in other community groups. For all participants, their involvement in community groups, and association with other administrators and school board personnel, especially in activities where they were seen to be making decisions, were considered assets in their journeys to administration. One trustee believed that her community visibility contributed to her having been elected to a civic position, especially “for someone like myself who’s not an old time resident in this community - I’ve lived here twenty years but that’s not long”. Another participant explained that particularly in a rural context “what we do feeds through in the community”.

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Future Challenges for Women in Administration in this School Division

Participants in this study were asked to share both what they considered their personal challenges to be in the years ahead, as well as the challenges they anticipated for women in positions of added responsibility in this school division.

Some personal goals related to the demands on administrators. One participant planned to work to become a better listener. She explained: “I think that sometimes in your administrative day, you get so wound up that you miss things. I am trying to focus in on listening more attentively”. Another said, “As an administrator, you’re expected to nurture staff but there’s a balance to maintain so that you don’t take care of everybody else at your own expense”.

Women who had recently met the demands of their graduate studies programs were ready to become more involved in community activities, and to continue their personal professional development through short courses sponsored by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ federation or the Saskatchewan School Based Administrators group.

Some participants planned to continue with school based initiatives. One participant said, “I have school related goals - initiatives undertaken that I want to continue like the bullying program”. Another said, “The direction I have for this school, in a small rural setting, is being on the cutting edge in the province doing good things for students in rural Saskatchewan”. Two participants indicated an interest in being a superintendent or director; others preferred to wait and see what opportunities might arise. Many participants indicated an awareness that because of the few women in administrative positions in this division, they were setting an example for other women.

Several participants referred to the changing cultural profile within this community, especially the increasing aboriginal population, and were sympathetic to the issues of a marginalized group. One participant shared her personal experience growing up in an English speaking community with Russian/German parents who did not speak English well:

Participants suggested that women are more sensitive to the needs of families. One participant stated: Family structures continue to undergo change. Many families have lost the connection to grandparents. One participant stated a need to reach both families and the whole community to take more responsibility for children’s education so that many of us will work together to a common goal.

For the participants in this study, the greatest challenge for women in administrative positions in this school division will be to continue to bring the needs of students and staff with whom they work on a daily basis to the attention of central office personnel, and to articulate clearly, with vision and courage, these needs, where help is needed and possible solutions to problems. In addition, this division needs women with vision to see beyond the present, and organizational abilities to address the challenges. One trustee indicated that she thinks the greatest challenge for women will be finding the courage to speak up about student needs. Another participant stated that she does not believe that central office personnel really understand the demands on administrators with the current state of our educational system, for example, curriculum implementation initiatives, decentralization of budgets, the integrated services model, and declining financial resources. Because of the challenges in schools today, administrators need time to support staff. One school based administrator sees a need:

Another woman said: Women will still need to balance the demands of the job with the demands of family, especially women with young families. “Society has conditioned us that if we want a family, we put our careers on hold. That’s sad but real. I don’t think we’ve made as many gains as we thought”, said one participant. The many dimensions of an administrative position itself require the management of several roles. One participant explained: “A principal is a juggler on a tightrope, balancing five or six balls at once, always being so careful not to lean one way or the other too hard”.

Several participants identified a need for more women in administration at upper levels including school division staff and secondary school administration as role models for students. One participant stated:

Participants recognized the reality of declining financial resources. One woman stated:  

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On Reflection

The participants agreed that one does not have to be male in order to meet the demands of administrative positions. The traits that women bring to these positions are valuable. Women should learn as much as possible about how organizations are structured, for example, through the Masters degree program now considered a requirement for administrative positions.

Female administrators need to network together. One woman said, “Find someone safe you can talk to because being an administrator is a very lonely position, especially in rural Saskatchewan”. While networking can encourage women to try administration, they need to be helped to know what is actually involved, especially the responsibilities and the time allowed to meet them, before they make the commitment. Encouraging more women to become involved in our own professional organization, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, cannot be overlooked. As one participant pointed out, “Our professional organization has had only four female presidents in seventy years”.

Women tend to enter administration later than men, preferring to become master teachers first. Participants in this study agreed that it takes women longer to believe in themselves, and advise that if women wish to try administration, they clearly consider why they might be waiting to do so. Other practical advice included: “Keep your sense of humour. Develop a thick skin. Don’t expect to be loved”.

The final advice for women in educational administration in this school division is left to those women who served on the school board as trustees:


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Part IV: Conclusion, Implications and Recommendations

For the participants in this study, their decisions to apply for administrative positions came at a time in their lives when they were ready for a new direction or challenge. Because of their education, teaching experience, and leadership skills gained in professional organizations and community groups, the women felt confident in their abilities to meet the responsibilities of an administrative position.

The participants in this study did not have a predetermined career plan. In considering an administrative position, the women had responded, with a willingness to take a risk, to an unexpected opportunity. Encouragement, especially from male directors, was of critical importance in the decision to apply for an administrative position.

Other factors which the participants considered as contributing to their successful appointments included their educational background especially in graduate studies, their successful teaching experience, and skills gained through family responsibilities and involvement in community groups and professional organizations, especially having been seen making decisions in those groups.

The advice offered by women in this study to other women considering educational administration included learning about how organizations work, studying at a graduate studies level, networking, and encouraging other women to become involved in their professional organizations. In addition, women were advised to believe in themselves and their vision, to value the traits they bring to administration, to have a sense of humour and a thick skin, to learn people skills, and to recognize that there will be increased demands on women in administrative positions.
There is evidence that women are interested in educational administration; for example, at the 1999 Saskatchewan Principals’ Summer Short Course, 45% of the participants were female. (F. Roberts, personal communication, July 25, 1999). Provincial gender equity initiatives support a gender balance in administrative positions. Conditions seem to be promising and encouraging for increased numbers of women to be appointed to administrative positions in the years to come.

The researcher suggests that the findings from this study have the following implications for both women and men in education, for hiring committees in school divisions, and for Colleges of Education:

This study has identified the need for further research in the following areas:

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