School Leaders and Gender

FastStats by: Jeffrey Mitchell, Currey Ingram Academy
Published: September 2014

In this FastStats, I will address gender trends for students, teachers and heads of school in both SAIS and NAIS over the past 20 years.

Regarding students, Figure 1 shows that the percentages of male and female students have stayed relatively stable over the past 20 years. Perhaps of note, NAIS males were in a slight majority 20 years ago, and by 2013-14 females were in a slight majority. Within SAIS, the opposite is the case. Females were in a slight majority 20 years ago, with males becoming the majority in recent years. Several lines of reasoning might be applied.

First, despite approximately 50 percent of children being born male or female, a disproportionate number of males are born with medical/neurological conditions that might preclude them from attending many NAIS schools. In other words, the sample could be slightly biased in favor of females. You would, however, have to explain why the pattern was reversed 20 years ago. Perhaps 20+ years ago there was still a slight societal bias de-emphasizing the importance of a college-preparatory education for females, which more than made up for the demographics due to medical/neurological conditions disproportionately impacting males.

Another explanation might simply be availability. Over time, schools open, close, merge and adjust their admissions guidelines. Perhaps the percentages reflect gender access. That is, there may be more spots for females or males depending on the number and types of schools available in a given year.

A third explanation is simple error variation. The small differences indicated fall within a narrow margin of error, thus might be explained as “random noise.”

For teachers, a pattern is far more apparent. Figure 2 shows that, for both SAIS and NAIS, the percentage of female teachers has increased by two to three percent. For NAIS, the percentage rose from about 67 to 70 over 20 years. For SAIS, the percentage of female teachers increased from 71 to 73. Perhaps this reflects a trend toward dual-working households and that teaching, right or wrong, lends itself to achieving work-life balance when both parents are working outside the home. Also interesting to note is that SAIS has consistently maintained approximately three percent more female teachers than NAIS, as a whole. My own experience suggests that the relatively culturally conservative Southeast may not be as open to having male teachers in certain grades, and this accounts for the difference.

Figure 3 shows that the data portray a very clear trend with heads of school. Overall, even today, the head of school position is male-dominated. Currently, approximately 67 percent of NAIS heads are male and over 77 percent of SAIS heads are male. Again, note that SAIS lags behind NAIS by 10 percent when it comes to gender parity. As noted above, cultural conservatism is perhaps the largest single factor for this result. The disparity between males and females in this category is especially curious considering the highly disproportionate number of females who are teachers, still the most likely background for heads. In addition the average term for NAIS heads, male and female, was 7 years. Meanwhile SAIS male heads averaged 5.8 years in their current position, while female heads averaged 6.7 years. A silver lining, however, is that over the past 20 years the difference in the number of male and female heads has decreased. In 1993-1994, 75 percent of NAIS heads were male and 86 percent of SAIS heads were male. In both NAIS and SAIS, the percentage of female heads has increased nearly 10 percent. Clearly, there is still a long way to go before parity is maintained. If the trend represented in this data continues, we may achieve parity within 20-30 years.

Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell is the Head of School at Currey Ingram Academy in Brentwood, TN. He can be reached via email at