New Analysis Shows Inequities Persist In Hiring And Pay Equity For Women Superintendents

ILO Group, a women-founded national education strategy and policy firm, today released the second round of their groundbreaking analysis of the growing gender inequality in K-12 school system leadership. The new tranche of data builds on ILO Group’s initial release of the Superintendent Research Project in January 2022, which offered a detailed analysis of turnover rates, interim positions, and hiring inequalities across the 500 largest school districts in the U.S.

ILO Group’s latest release shows that these inequities persist: at the district level, women continue to be underrepresented among incoming superintendents, including notable and significant geographic differences; and newly-added data for state-level superintendent positions show significant gender-based pay gaps. Key findings include:

  • Since July 1, 2021, 44 of the 500 largest school districts in the country have announced that their superintendent will be outgoing at the end of the year.
    • Of the 17 who have named a replacement, 16 have been men. 
  • As of March 2022, the research revealed that the spread of women superintendents serving in permanent, interim, and outgoing roles has substantial geographic differences in gender equity, with 43 percent of positions in the Northeast held by women, compared to:
    • 35 percent in the Southwest;
    • 31 percent in the Midwest;
    • 26 percent in the West; and
    • 24 percent in the Southeast.
  • Of the 143 total women who are currently serving as superintendents within the 500 largest districts, 84 (59 percent) were internal hires, while only 59 (41 percent) were external hires – showing women are more likely to be hired as superintendents when their district hires for the position internally
  • Right now women make up the majority – 53 percent (27 out of 51) – of those serving in state-level superintendent positions; yet all female state superintendents currently receive, on average, 12 percent less pay than their male counterparts.
    • The new analysis also compared differences in salary between elected and non-elected state superintendent positions. Across both genders, elected state superintendents make 40 percent less than non-elected. Women comprise 73 percent (8 out of 11) of elected state superintendents. 
    • Additionally, among state superintendents, the average salary for elected women is 26 percent less than elected men. 
  • While there has been significant turnover (38 percent) of state superintendents since March 2020, the gender breakdown among new state superintendents has remained steady (unlike at the district level, where the gender gap has widened). 

“We continue to see a historically low number of women serving in K-12 leadership positions despite the enormous pool of talented women leaders. These latest data make clear that there’s still a tremendous amount of work left to do to ensure equity in districts’ hiring practices and parity when it comes to superintendents’ pay,” said ILO Group Co-Founder and CEO Dr. Julia Rafal-Baer. “From societal factors, such as stereotypes about the capabilities of women, to structures that school systems directly control – including skewed pipelines that favor men and bias in hiring practices – these disparities are rooted in discrimination, and have no place in our education system. And perhaps most importantly, as these latest data spotlight, it’s long past time to make equal pay for equal work a reality. But this isn’t just about fairness – it deprives millions of children of the leadership talent they deserve. As we work toward helping a generation of children recover from the pandemic, it’s critical that we tap into the full range of talent to reimagine and redesign more equitable education systems, and that our education leaders better reflect the diversity of the systems they represent.”

These new data are accompanied by clear, actionable steps ILO Group encourages districts to pursue based on decades of work coaching and supporting women leaders across the country. In order to change the education system and ensure more women, particularly women of color, are positioned to land leadership roles:

  • Districts must prioritize gender equity from the outset of recruitment and selection; 
  • Districts should commit to public, transparent goals for hiring (and demand search firms and school boards adhere to those goals);
  • Federal agencies should make superintendent turnover and demographic data publicly available, to uncover and root out discrimination;
  • District leadership should intentionally foster support systems, such as coaching for talented female chiefs, and sponsors – superiors who take a hands-on role in managing career moves and promoting executives – which research shows give employees the confidence and support needed to pursue stretch assignments and pay raises.

The initial round of Superintendent Research Project data released in January showed potentially historic turnover among the nation’s largest 500 districts, as well as a dramatic and widening gender gap in district leadership across the U.S:

  • Since March 2020, 186 (37%) of the 500 largest school districts in the country had undergone or were undergoing leadership changes.
  • 154 (83%) of those 186 districts had completed their transitions and appointed a new superintendent. The other 32 districts had either appointed an interim superintendent or were in the process of finding a replacement.
  • In the 154 districts that had completed their transitions:
    • 70% of newly appointed superintendents were men.
    • The cumulative proportion of male leaders in these districts increased from 65% to 69%.

Of the 51 female superintendents who left during the pandemic, 39 (76%) were replaced by men. Of the districts where there were outgoing superintendents but no interim or permanent has been named, there were still two women who were outgoing, so this number could increase.

Gender gaps and disparities in education leadership were significant before the pandemic began. Prior to March 2020, women made up only slightly more than a third of superintendents nationwide, despite comprising the vast majority of the workforce in the nation’s K-12 schools. 

The second round of the Superintendent Research Project includes data collected through March 2022, with the largest 500 school districts identified through data from the National Center for Education Statistics. ILO Group then studied each individual district to gather information on their current and former superintendent(s). For state superintendent salaries, information was sourced from the Council of State Governments, The Book of The States Volume 53, and local news stories.  

For an overview and analysis of the initial data of the Superintendent Research Project released in Januaryplease click [here]

To view the full data set of the nation’s 500 largest school districts and the leadership transitions occurring within them, please click [here].