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Gender and Leadership in Education

Women Achieving Against the Odds

Edited By Kay Fuller and Judith Harford

The under-representation of women in leadership positions in educational settings is a widely acknowledged, complex phenomenon that seems to persist, despite the fact that teaching as a profession is dominated by women. Over recent decades, scholars have investigated the factors contributing towards this under-representation, with a particular focus on the personal, organisational and social/cultural levels.

This volume has been compiled in honour of Marianne Coleman, Emeritus Reader in Educational Leadership and Management at the Institute of Education, University College London. She is widely regarded as one of the most significant scholars globally in the field of gender and educational leadership, forging the research agenda and mentoring some of the scholars who contribute essays here. Amongst the key questions the book asks are: Why does society continue to accept male leaders as the norm? What barriers do women who seek leadership positions face? What supports do women require in order to encourage them to pursue leadership positions? How do women working in leadership positions conceive of their role as leaders? How might women’s educational leadership be best supported at an institutional level?

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Jill Sperandio and Jennifer Polinchock - Roads Less Travelled: Female Elementary School Principals Aspiring to the School District Superintendency


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Roads Less Travelled: Female Elementary School Principals Aspiring to the School District Superintendency


Marianne Coleman’s quest to expose the gender inequalities in educational leadership in the UK and to seek to help women aspiring to be leaders to confront and overcome the barriers facing them has inspired and supported similar research in other nations of the world. Discussing women’s access to leadership, she noted ‘There are two types of women: ones who perceive there is not a problem – they are wearing blinkers; they tend to pull up the drawbridge – then there are women who admit there are issues, but also see that there are lots of things that can be done’ (Coleman 2011: 18) Coleman believed that making women aware of the perceptions and biases that limit their selection for positions of educational leadership would empower them to find the things that can be done, including developing career paths and strategies to counter discrimination. Knowledge of the patterns of gender discrimination allows women to position themselves to take on the roles for which they are well qualified and to which they bring fresh perspectives and leadership styles. This chapter presents research that indicates one group of women – elementary school principals in the USA – are doing this, by forging non-traditional paths to the top leadership position in US school districts, that of the district superintendent.

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