Press Release: Gender Leadership Gap in Public Education Persists, Despite Years of Historic Levels of Turnover

Latest release of the Superintendent Research Project reveals only modest improvement in gender representation in the nation’s 500 largest school districts


Despite a modest increase in the number of women appointed to superintendent positions in recent years, women still lead only 30 percent of the nation’s largest school districts. 

“While there have been modest increases in the number of women leading districts, we should not celebrate. The fact remains: seven out of 10 districts are led by men even though women make up the overwhelming majority of the education workforce,” said Dr. Julia Rafal-Baer, CEO of ILO Group and founder of Women Leading Ed. “Our latest report shows that gender pay gaps, disparate access to networks and sponsors, and a lack of commitment from boards to elevate women are the largest barriers to progress and the findings reinforce that innovative and focused initiatives like Women Leading Ed are essential if we’re going to bridge this gap.”

The Superintendent Research Project is the only comprehensive analysis of who is leading the nation’s school districts and is led by ILO Group, a women-founded national education strategy and policy firm. This is the fourth update of the Superintendent Research Project

The latest findings show:

  • Of the nation’s 500 largest school districts, women lead 152 districts (30.4 percent), compared with 139 districts (27.8 percent) in 2018.
  • High rates of leadership turnover persist. Nearly a quarter of the nation’s districts (21.4 percent) had at least one change in leadership over the last year, compared with more typically cited trends of 14 to 16 percent.

The 2023 update to the Superintendent Research Project does show a modest increase in the number of women leading districts since 2021, which correlates with the launch of Women Leading Ed, a national network for women in education leadership. Since the launch, there has been a 2.4 percent increase in the number of women leading large districts. This past year, network members secured 14 percent of the new female superintendent positions within the top 500. 

Additional findings in the report provide insight into district decision-making trends when selecting candidates for superintendent roles. According to the report, women are more likely to be named superintendent when districts select an internal leader. Women are also more likely to serve as interim before being hired permanently for the superintendent position, compared to their male counterparts. In districts where women occupied 75 percent or more of board seats, women were more likely to be appointed to top positions compared to districts with a similar male majority. Over the past year, this led to 48 percent of top posts being filled by women in the former, and 33 percent in the latter. More diverse leadership at the board level may be a potential path in driving broader change in leadership representation. 

Using the Superintendent Research Project as a basis for advocacy, Women Leading Ed released a companion report this summer and an advocacy letter that offers a “playbook” of policies and practices for others to use, including strategies that serve to:

  • Create and promote intentional support systems to prepare women for leadership roles
  • Re-balance the hiring process through requirements and the promotion of best practices
  • Provide family and wellbeing supports
  • Set public goals for female leadership and increase transparency
  • Ensure financial fairness

To view the full data set of the nation’s 500 largest school districts, including past releases of the Superintendent Research Projectclick [here].