Essay – Gender Bias in Educational Leadership

Gender Bias in Educational Leadership


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This paper examines gender bias in leadership as it pertains to this research question: Gender bias, does it exist in education leadership positions and how does it impact biblical teachings? Gender discrimination is a devastating reality, which causes very few people to stand up, take notice and speak out about the issue. Upon examination, the components of this paper will review specific conflict as it relates to biblical, legal and societal implications. Three paramount issues which were assessed include whether male leaders were favored over female leaders, how gender imbalance affects the choices males and females impart and impact, and biblical implications with regards to fairness, preparation and commitment to and for educational leadership.


Gender discrimination in educational institutions persists, despite the vigorous pursuit of policies and programs to reduce the varying degrees of gender inequality in school leadership (Bon, 2009). When discussing the issue of gender bias in the educational forum, one must first determine what the role of a great leader is and what leaders do. In review of Spiritual Leadership by Blackaby and Blackaby, leadership is defined as the ability of one person to influence others. A Christian leader is someone who is called by God to lead; they lead with and through Christ like character and demonstrate the functional competencies that permit effective leadership to take place (Blackaby, 2011). In determining a good leader, we typically look for traits which include a sense of power, great negotiating skills, enduring preparation for the role of leadership and excellent communication skills. When examining gender bias in leadership, there are specific behaviors that were utilized by men to impart male dominance within the workplace.

These behaviors included lack of eye contact, touching, references to gender, degrading remarks, interrupted speech and condescension (Burns & Martin, 2010). If experienced, these approaches can lead to feelings of inequity and depression. Though frequently utilized within the workplace, these approaches flow from illegitimate sources of influence and are not in keeping with legitimate sources of influence which seeks to have leaders to lead with character, integrity and most importantly with God’s authentication. (Blackaby, 2011). To avoid the listed nuances, and to not fall privy to the trap of gender bias, each leader regardless of their role as CEO, School Principal or Superintendent, must take a leadership inventory. Leaders must ask themselves the questions: “Why are people following me?” Is it because they are paid to do so; is it because they cannot find a better job; is it because they believe it is their duty – or is it because they see the mark of character and integrity coupled with an authentic stamp of approval from God in my life operating in accordance to my leadership style? (Blackaby, 2011). Further contained within the illegitimate approaches to leadership, the preparation and training as it relates to positions of higher ranking authority, such as superintendency, have to be examined as factors which lead to gender bias. Further, emotional effects traditionally associated with women, impact gender bias as well.

While further determining the existence of gender bias, women who currently perform in roles such as that of superintendent as well as women who were aspiring to become superintendents, were polled. While interviewing these women, a review of tendencies and issues that they faced while seeking positions of higher leadership in education were examined. During the 1990s, women were the dominant gender in professional education as well as in university based professional preparation programs for administrators (Chin, 2011). Even though the percentage of women superintendents nearly doubled during the nineties, from 6.6 percent, to 13.2 percent, the vast majority of superintendents remain male. Although many superintendents are retiring, (many view this as the golden age for women in school administration) and significant growth has been viewed by women in the educational profession, this growth has not been viewed as insignificant within the senior level of leadership. Women who seek leadership positions have been encouraged to align themselves with mentors who are experienced in their careers and with those who possess qualities for achieving successful outcomes (Bingham & Nix, 2010). Women have also been encouraged to engage in positions which will project them on their quest to senior level educational leadership and to overcome bias.

Most women (around 75 percent) teach on the elementary level. Nearly 75 of current superintendents did not teach at the elementary level prior to working as Central Office administrators or superintendents (Bingham & Nix, 2010). Most current superintendents come from a secondary background where men teachers are a considerable majority (Chin, 2011). Most elementary school teachers jump straight from the classroom to the position of principal and then notably, from principal to senior level leadership. Research establishes that in most of these instances, those women who had backgrounds from an elementary setting were not selected for senior level positions. This ultimately suggests that high school and middle school teachers had many more entry points for a move into higher levels of administration and the first step towards superintendency, thereby leading to break gender bias (Sperandio, 2009).

Addressing gender issues in society is not a new battle, but one that is not easily detected or defeated. Some of the implications of gender bias revolve around politics and emotion. According to Aristotle, the purpose of the state is to foster the supreme good: the moral and intellectual development of its citizens ( Rebore, 2001). Many contend that gender bias occurs when practitioners do not embrace new approaches to leadership and instead adhere to authoritative and traditional views (Rebore, 2001). To overcome this challenge, and not fall prey to the pitfalls of bias, women must ensure that they are appropriately prepared in accordance to their educational and leadership credentials. Nationwide data indicate that women constitute more than fifty percent of the graduate students enrolled in educational administration programs (Bingham & Nix, 2010). Women are also achieving their doctorates at comparable rates to male candidates.

The research further indicates that only about ten percent of women in doctoral programs are earning superintendency credentials along with their educational specialist or doctoral degree. Although they possess the academic prowess, bias that these women experience may be attributed to their lack of preparation with regards to fiscal management. While most women had stellar knowledge of instructional programs, several lacked knowledge on budget and financial decisions, yet these skills and experiences were viewed as key criteria in the hiring process (Sperandio, 2009). Of 297 women superintendents polled, about half had experience in senior level leadership, but very few had responsibilities in personnel and finance. Most had experience as curriculum leaders or specialists and stated they were hired based on their capability to be a strong educational and instructional leader. Boards of education state that strength in instruction and content is extremely relevant, however, candidates must also have strong fiscal management knowledge. This situation is changing as many districts seek superintendents’ leadership and direction in raising test scores and meeting the requirements of state mandated high stakes assessments systems (Sperandio, 2009).

While appealing to the prescribed district for a coveted senior level educational administration position, many women who have gone through or are going through this process, have admitted that they have experienced some form of emotional effect in their personal lives in the form of gender bias (Burns & Martin, 2010). These candidates expressed frustration, anger, depression and diminished self-esteem. It is evident that the stakes are high when evaluating the emotional toll. Some women have tried to lie to themselves and others when it comes to traveling the road to senior level administration. Most school boards still contain members which are majority – men (Burns & Martin, 2010). Women seeking superintendent jobs have been subjected to some restrictive forces working against them as they look to be hired by school boards. Of the women who currently perform in roles of superintendent, around 82% of these women, indicate that school board members do not see them as strong managers and 76% felt school boards did not view them as capable of handling district finances. Additionally, 61% percent felt that a glass ceiling existed in school management, which lessened their chances of selection. Further, about 43% of the male superintendents agreed that school boards tend to view women as incapable of managing a school district (Burns & Martin, 2010).

These factors have all been associated with the emotional indicators that some arguably specify as augmenting the bias that women experience. The feelings of emotion that these women hold onto is heightened by the fact that there are so few women role models to look to for camaraderie or emotional sounding boards. The women often reported dealing with feelings on inequity, yet having no one to help them work through the emotions. They reported working hard, yet never feeling that it was quite enough. If she’s too assertive, she is considered cold and conniving. If she too diplomatic, she soft. If she does succeed, the contention is that there is likely a man in the office whom others view as the real leader (Sperandio, 2010).

Although the research seems to align with the controversy that gender bias definitely exists within senior level educational administration, there are means by which potential senior level administrators can overcome these pitfalls. In accordance to the teachings from Proverbs, and from Blackaby and Blackaby, there are pitfalls that work to disqualify leaders. Gender biases prevail under the component of pride that shows in a variety of guises, yet leads to the leaders ineffectiveness. Many male senior level managers and counterparts indicate that they seemed to make decisions with regards to their female counterparts seeking promotion in manners that exhibited pride (Bon, 2009). In accordance to biblical implications, pride leads to a loss of compassion. Most of the women who were directly affected by gender bias agreed that they were not on the receiving end of compassion from those individuals in position of power, primarily men. Leadership is a high calling, and it is a God given privilege that should be experienced by only those individuals who are called upon, and qualified by God (Blackaby & Blackaby, 2011). When leaders become callused to the hardships of their people, their pride has the ability to desensitize them (Blackaby, 2011).

This is shown when women leaders reach the “glass-ceiling”, and is not permitted to progress further, even when they have the credentials as well as the required preparation in areas such as curriculum and fiscal management. Pride makes leaders who operate within it vulnerable and if allowed to grow unchecked, it will cause leaders to ultimately lose everything. God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, KJV). Conclusion

Although attrition to gender bias in educational leadership seems unopposed, there is some solace that can be taken. Leaders who experience gender bias can look to necessary safeguards as a manner to overcome the bias. When facing despair and discouragement, leaders can pray for others and ask others to pray for them. The most practical step that a leader facing any type of unfairness should follow is to pray that God will help them keep their lives above reproach. Leaders may be blind-sighted by unexpected events such as partiality in selection, but God never is in his infinite grace and wisdom. He will build a hedge of protection around those leaders who honestly deserve (Blackaby, 2011). In doing so, personal rewards will be afforded to that leader in the form of selection, integrity, the reward of emotional transparency and influence upon others to make the right decisions.


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Retrieved September 24, 2013.

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