The Status of Women Leaders in Utah Public Education (K–12): A 2022 Update

In 2014, the Utah Women & Leadership Project (UWLP) released a research and policy brief titled “The Status of Women Leaders in Utah Education, and an updated version was published in 2017. The reports focused on the status of women’s leadership in all Utah education sectors. In 2021, UWLP updated the postsecondary education portion of the brief, and this report provides an update of the K–12 portion. The purpose of this brief is to determine what, if any, progress has been made in women’s leadership within Utah’s K–12 education sector, including public and charter schools. This brief compares Utah data with national data and reviews the applicable literature. Finally, comparisons of current data with 2014 and 2017 data reveal trends and pinpoints the crucial work that lies ahead. 

Setting the Stage 

While Utah saw modest increases in the number of women in educational leadership between the UWLP 2014 and 2017 reports, there were no significant gains. Women continue to be underrepresented in many of the most influential roles within schools and districts. This 2022 research and policy brief highlights any changes since the 2017 brief by comparing national and Utah data on the following leadership positions and/or categories within public education:  

  • Boards of Education 
  • State Offices of Education Leadership 
  • District Superintendents 
  • District Staff Directors 
  • Principals 
Boards of Education 

In 2022, 59.0% of state school board members across the country are women, which marks an 11.7% increase from 2016, when 47.3% of state school board members were female. 

State Superintendent & Staff 

According to the 2021 Council of Chief State School Officers directory, 52.9% of the nation’s state superintendents were women. This marks a significant increase from the 29.0% reported in 2013 and a continuing rise from the 49.0% of state superintendents who were women in 2017. 

District Superintendents and Staff Directors 

According to the American Superintendent 2020 Decennial Study (the most recent available data), 26.7% of district superintendents across the country were women. Today in Utah, 12.2% of superintendents are women, a number that remains unchanged since 2017.  

School Principals and Assistant Principals 

According to a 2017–2018 National Center for Education Statistics report, 54.6% of public school principals were female, with more at the elementary school level (66.8%) than at the middle school (39.9%), high school (32.6%), or combined levels (43.4)%. Currently, in Utah, 48.6% of school principals are women; 58.3% of elementary school principals are women, a 2.2% increase from 2017, while the number of female middle/junior high school principals remained relatively unchanged from 2017. 

Current Efforts 

Although we have not been able to identify any leadership development programs or initiatives in Utah focused specifically on women in the K–12 sector, more general developmental opportunities are offered to school administrators. For example, current leadership support efforts at the USBE include the Utah Principal Supervisors’ Academy, Utah Principal Partnership Networks (PPNs), and the School Leadership Development Community of Practice. In addition, the number of institutes has increased, and there are more offerings for training in specific topics (e.g., STEM, evaluation). In addition, a number of other associations and entities provide workshops and programs focused on leadership development: Utah School Superintendents Association, the Utah School Boards Association, Utah Association of Elementary School Principals, Utah Association of Secondary School Principals, Utah Education Association, and the Utah Education Network.  

Conclusion 

Research has shown that most people do not fully realize the value of having women in key leadership positions in educational institutions. Women in leadership offer more diverse pathways to better decision making, and women in general are more committed to inclusiveness and cooperation in the workplace. In addition, women’s presence in leadership positions provides female role models for staff and students, which research suggests may positively impact women’s leadership behaviors. The focus of many women on developing and mentoring others has been shown to enrich the programs and institutions of which they are a part. Research continues to report that truly diverse and inclusive leadership teams produce more creative, innovative, productive, and effective results, which makes gender inclusivity in educational settings both critical and timely.  

Over the past several years, more schools are setting goals toward improving overall organizational performance through increased diversity, and gender diversity is a key component. Extraordinary challenges continue to plague public institutions in Utah and the United States, and strong leaders with outstanding capabilities are needed more than ever to help schools meet these challenges, which include long-term consequences from the COVID-19 pandemic, increased social unrest, gun violence, burnout among teachers and school staff, and recent surges in depression and other mental health conditions among US youth. To combat these challenges effectively, Utah must make timely progress with women’s leadership, especially in K–12 education.  

Within the constantly changing national and state educational environments, leaders must have an exceptional and diverse set of competencies to help their institutions rise to new levels of excellence and innovation. Yet, schools continue to struggle more than ever to find qualified, effective leaders not only to take the helms of their organizations but also to move into other important leadership positions therein. Hence, finding, preparing, and supporting future educational leaders – women and men—is imperative for the future of Utah. For the benefit of all Utahns, it is critical that we all encourage and prepare talented individuals to take up this challenge by stepping forward to become leaders within the state’s education system and schools. Our children are depending on it. 

To learn more about the status of women leaders in Utah public education (K-12), read the full brief.

Check out some of our other posts

July 2022 Newsletter

The July 2022 Newsletter for the Utah Women & Leadership Project highlights new resources released, editorials, and announcements about women's groups and partnerships.

The Status of Utah American Indian Women

The data in this report provide a snapshot of the existing disparities in several areas specifically related to Utah American Indian women. It also provides a starting point for meaningful, targeted change.