Experiences of success for women superintendents

Date of Completion

January 2005


Women's Studies|Education, Administration




Shrinking numbers of applicants, high turnover rates, and relatively short career spans are all exacerbating the shortage of candidates for public school superintendencies. With the majority of educators being women, they are a logical source of candidates that has only marginally been activated. If women are to seek the superintendency, however, they will need to view the position as one that will offer them success. But what is success for women in the superintendency? How do women in the position experience it? This study probes the lived experiences of women superintendents in search of understanding what success is for them. ^ A phenomenological approach was used to probe the experiences of success of three women superintendents. Through intense and iterative interviews, the women shared and reflected on their experiences of success. The data was analyzed using Van Manen's framework of lived experiences (lived time, live place, lived relationships and lived body). ^ The themes of relationships and accomplishments emerged as central to women's success experiences. Relationships were valued for their importance to leadership and their inherent worth as human connection. Goals and accomplishments were also important to how these women define success. Not only is the attainment of goals and accomplishments vital to success, but sustaining them over time is perceived as critical. ^ Other factors were not viewed as evidence of success but rather agents or contexts for it. Time, power, money and place were not considered measures of success. Women also did not regard barrier breaking as evidence of success. ^ The simplification of success as defined in these women's lives may very well provide those women considering the superintendency with understandings that will help illuminate a path toward their decisions. The stories within the study may also inspire other female superintendents to tell their stories of success in a liberating journey into themselves. Finally, as more gender balanced structures in the superintendency are created, all with interest, men and women, may benefit from deeper understandings about women's success in the roles. ^