It’s International Women’s Day, and we at Leading Educators are especially thankful for the generations of women educators who have changed the world by cultivating self-discovery and growth inside and beyond the classroom. We celebrate the countless women activists—such as Mary McLeod Bethune, Malala Yousafzai, and Sylvia Mendez—who have advocated for the universal human right to education. By championing the potential in all of us, these women have been the backbone of social progress for centuries. We challenge you to join us in honoring them today and every day through concrete actions:
Prioritize women’s opportunities for professional growth. The Department of Education estimates that there are 3.8 million public school teachers in the United States, and about 2.9 million of those teachers are women. Prioritizing professional growth means prioritizing women's advancement. Teachers need consistent, school-based opportunities to reflect on the realities of their context and develop their skills and knowledge in collaboration with others. At the same time, teacher leadership strategies can create more systemic entry points to leadership and influence. By building structures that position and prepare women educators to both lead others and refine their teaching, schools can grow new leaders and energize teaching and learning in every classroom. More and better learning benefits all of us.
Advocate for women—especially women of color—to have greater agency in district and school leadership positions. While women make up more than three-quarters of the U.S. teaching force, they hold only 30 percent of school and district administration roles (Department of Education, 2016). This imbalance contributes to larger trends of pay disparity, perceived social status, and inequitable career advancement seen in American society as a whole. Research suggests that organizations with more women in senior leadership positions are more successful (Dawson, Kersley, Natella, 2014). Creating opportunities for women to lead is good business.
Recognize the role that systemic bias plays in accomplishing or derailing change. The perspective of women leaders is critical when focusing on the most direct ways to address the opportunity gap. We know from our work with districts that effective school transformation strategies must be grounded in what and how students learn—a capacity where women currently have the most experience and influence. Under-representing women in decision-making roles that affect instruction unintentionally excludes valuable insights into what students and teachers need to increase student success. Even more, we know that students of color are most likely to be taught by white women, so larger systemic shifts are necessary to ensure that hiring managers recognize and counteract institutional biases that prioritize creating formal and functional opportunities for women of color to drive change.
Lift up the experiences of women of color, trans women, and undocumented women. There is no single “woman’s experience,” so it’s important that those with influence recognize and honor the diversity of experiences lived by women educators. Teaching is an inherently dynamic and demanding profession, and the reality that life is intersectional means that simply being a person comes with other layers of stressors. From the institutional perspective, policies for pay and work-life balance have long perpetuated systemic privileges for white women, so it is important to identify within-gender disparities and advocate for solutions that take these important differences into account. Approach your support for women educators with the same kind of intersectional equity orientation that you expect for students. In the words of Audre Lorde, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”
Have more ideas to add to this list? We would love to hear them at @leadingeds!