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Vol. 10, No. 1 = No. 10 (2002 Winter)

Crossing Borders: An Analysis of the Characteristics and Attributes of Female Public School Principals

  • Leslie A. Holtkamp
June 19, 2017


The female principal's role is diverse, fragmented, and involves numerous decisions daily. It is important for women to be able to identify and evaluate their own personal characteristics.

Leadership has been the central focus of research in the field of educational administration. Most studies have largely been based on the experiences of white males (Blackmore, 1989; Capper, 1993; Glazer, 1991) in the field of school administration. Historically, leadership roles have been held by men (Capper, 1993; Sloan, 1999). Because of this social attitude, women have been reluctant to pursue educational, administrative leadership positions (Epp, 1993).

As of the mid-1990‚s, women comprised 50% of the workforce. Women held 13% of management positions, and held only 7% of executive positions (Hagberg, 1998). In the areas of school administration, men outnumber women four to one at the administrative level (Lynch, 1990). "In the years between 1928 and 1984, the number of women principals continually dropped from 55 % to 18%" (Lynch, 1990, p. 336). These data mirror the drop in the representation of women throughout the educational administration field (Capper, 1993; Sloan 1999). While a recent survey of school superintendents indicated that the number of women at all levels of school administration is slowly increasing; women's representation in school administration is far from being proportionate to their numbers in education (Hagberg, 1998; Sloan, 1999). Sloan (1999) reported that the number of Australian female principals have increased from 15.3% in 1991 to 29.5% in 1999. The Australian Department of Education Secretary, Geoff Spring, has increased efforts to train and promote female teachers to administrative positions (Sloan, 1999). At a 1998 conference, Spring said, "Women make up almost 70% of the workforce in school education, are highly qualified and achieving increasing success as they seek and obtain formal leadership roles." He stressed the importance of pride and personal achievement of women in leadership roles but noted, "There is considerable distance to be traveled before women are present in leadership roles in the same ratio as in the education workforce" (Spring, 1998). A special leadership program has been designed for aspiring women educational leaders in Australia to help close the gap (Sloan, 1999).

All women experience barriers. When Black women enter educational administration, there are internal and external barriers to overcome (Gregory, 1999). Gregory (1999) stated that internal barriers are based on both perceptions of one's capability to work in a leadership role, and personal leadership styles. External barriers are described as barriers that an individual has no control over. External barriers might include lack of resources and not being included in collaborative projects. Also, many black women have reported feelings of isolation (Gregory, 1999).