Women’s leadership across the globe

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 28 September 2010



Sherman, W.H. (2010), "Women’s leadership across the globe", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 48 No. 6. https://doi.org/10.1108/jea.2010.07448faa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Women’s leadership across the globe

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Journal of Educational Administration, Volume 48, Issue 6

About the Guest Editor

Whitney H. ShermanAssociate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, USA. Her research interests include: leadership preparation and mentoring; women’s issues in leadership; social justice in leadership; and ethical leadership. Whitney H. Sherman’s work has been featured in journals including: Educational Administration Quarterly, Journal of School Leadership, Journal of Educational Administration; Educational Policy and International Journal for Qualitative Studies in Education. Whitney H. Sherman can be contacted at: whsherman@vcu.edu

Traditionally, findings from studies in educational leadership and reported best practices were generalized from the experiences of white men to all (Shakeshaft, 1989) causing the under-representation of women in leadership positions to be attributed to their own deficiencies (Newton, 2006). Research that addresses women’s experiences in advancement to educational leadership positions in the k-12 setting (Cubillo and Brown, 2003; Grogan, 2000; Loder, 2005; Mahitivanichcha and Rorrer, 2006; Shakeshaft, 1989) and in the university setting (Cooney and Uhlenberg, 1989; Madsen, 2007; Perna, 2001; Ward and Wolf-Wendel, 2004; Wolfinger et al., 2008) inspired the development of this issue.

This special issue of the Journal of Educational Administration is a collection of manuscripts related to women in educational leadership. Educational leadership is defined by the authors in ways that are inclusive of a large span of ages and positions in the field of education worldwide. It is both the journal and guest editor’s mission to offer as global a perspective on women in leadership as possible. This issue represents 17 authors from 12 universities across five countries and embodies the perspectives and voices of women from nine countries. A primary objective of this special issue is to promote social justice and inclusiveness of voice specific to women and their experiences in educational leadership.

Authors offer responses to questions including:

  • What are women doing in higher education?

  • What is it like to be a woman researching and teaching in the field of educational leadership?

  • What is the impact of context for women in leadership education positions?

  • What are the perspectives and experiences of women in k-12 educational leadership positions?

The result is a volume of work that signifies women are doing amazing things with their lives at various levels, but that there is still much room for pioneering work by women in educational leadership and, in turn, research on this work.

This issue highlights eight articles and a conclusion by authors who are men and women working in the field of educational leadership. In “Young women and the co-construction of leadership,” McNae highlights the importance of including young women in decision-making processes related to their learning about leadership and outlines an alternative approach to leadership development in high schools in New Zealand. She brings young women’s voices into the leadership discussion and shares findings from a collaborative study where she worked with a group of young women to co-construct a leadership development program. McNae’s findings indicate that this approach to leadership development for young women challenged existing views of teaching and learning and was, instead, an active process that allowed shared ownership.

In “Female leadership and school effectiveness of junior high schools in Ghana”, Agezo examines leadership practices by women principals that are considered crucial in the effectiveness and improvement of schools in Ghanaian Junior High Schools. Agezo found that the five women leaders he observed over a period of three months acted as transformational leaders by creating a work environment that encouraged creative thinking; designing and implementing new and cutting edge programs; and challenging the status quo. In addition, these principals encouraged parents to: provide homes for their children; protect them from physical, sexual and emotional abuse; provide their basic needs; and teach them moral values cherished by the Ghanaian communities. According to Agezo, at the time of he conducted his research, it was the first study on women principals in Junior High Schools in Ghana.

Similarly, Shapira, Arar, and Azaiza, in their article, “Arab women principals’ empowerment and leadership in Israel”, embark upon a first attempt to document the development of Arab women principals in Israel in a biographical and sociological context. They tell the life-stories of four women who rose to senior positions as principals in Arab schools in Israel and describe the personal, professional, and sociopolitical contexts and implications. Findings indicate that these women act as progressive models for a society where women leaders are not a social norm. Much of their success comes from empowerment that they identify from their personal backgrounds as well as the importance they place on their relationships with teachers, parents, and students.

In Sperandio’s article, “Modeling cultural context for aspiring women educational leaders”, she examines the development of frameworks to guide studies of women’s paths to educational leadership from a worldwide scope to allow for comparisons between contexts to identify commonalities and differences, and to predict the likely outcomes of interventions for recruiting women into educational leadership positions. Sperandio reports her work in Bangladesh, India, and Uganda to develop her model for guiding women. Her paper is distinct in that it seeks to understand the culturally determined interaction of social and institutional factors that impact career building and attainment and useful as it has implications for leadership preparation for women to increase their entry into and success in school leadership positions.

Changing the setting of articles from k-12 to the university, Mansfield, Welton, Lee, and Young, in their article, “The lived experiences of female educational leadership doctoral students”, sought to understand the challenges facing women graduate students in educational leadership departments in the USA. They explored the constructs of leadership education preparation and mentorship of women graduate students. Constraints within the university culture, personal and familial sacrifice, struggles with identity and self, and experiences with mentoring emerged as significant themes. The authors advocate that universities take responsibility for creating the organizational structures that are conducive to enabling women to succeed as students and educational leaders to better reflect diversity and inspire inclusion.

In “Unwritten: young women faculty in educational leadership”, Sherman, Beaty, Crum, and Peters continue with work in the university setting by engaging in an emergent approach to understanding and facilitating social justice and diversity in higher education based on their perspectives as young women professors’ in the academy. They utilize biographical narrative inquiry and extend their findings to advocate for changes in university climates for women. They develop strategies for young women faculty in educational leadership that include: action-oriented mentoring; the valuing of home and person; living within gender, age, and skin; and celebration of youth and womanhood. Their work is unique in that little to no research exists outside of informal personal reports on young women’s experiences in the academy.

Ngunjiri, in “Lessons in spiritual leadership by Kenyan women”, explicates spiritual leadership lessons of beneficence, courage, hope and ubuntu/humanness that are derived from the experiences of women leaders in Kenya. She interweaves African data with existing literature on spiritual leadership and demonstrates similarities and differences between African spiritual leadership and western conceptualizations of spiritual leadership. While beneficence, courage, and hope are found to be comparable to existing western conceptualizations, ubuntu is unique to the African context. Ngunjiri’s work provides a deeper understanding of spiritual leadership as enacted by African women, and calls for the need for increased research on non-western, non-white perspectives on spirituality.

In Coleman’s “Women-only (homophilous) networks supporting women leaders in education”, she examines what female networks have and offer in regard to the support and development of women in educational leadership. Coleman draws on two case studies of female networks in education in England that emerged at the beginning of the 1990s in the context of the second wave of feminism. Findings indicate that while support has been and continues to be important, these networks are disappearing in part by a lack of interest from younger women who believe gender issues to no longer be relevant and less support from universities and organizations.

Finally, Grogan, a leading scholar in the field of educational leadership, offers an insightful conclusion and draws readers back to Virginia Woolf’s challenge to London’s National Society for Women’s Service in 1931 for women to shape their professions as they would like them to be by identifying and killing ghosts (obstacles) by not only identifying rooms in their houses, but paying for them independently and furnishing them under their own terms. Grogan reminds us that while women have gained educational leadership positions in several countries, they have not done so globally. And, the majority who have entered the profession are white, middle-class women, leaving a large number of women without a voice in educational leadership. The growing entrance and acceptance of women leaders will, hopefully, signal a shift increasing the representation of women principals and university professors worldwide and generate research on the different approaches and successes women bring to leadership practice.

In summary, the authors of this issue provide insights into the activities and experiences of women working in k-12 and university settings across the globe. This issue promotes social justice from an unapologetic feminist perspective with the goal of inclusiveness of voice specific to women and their experiences in educational leadership. According to Anzaldua (1983):

Only together can we be a force … Not all of us have the same oppressions, but we empathize and identify with each other’s oppressions. We do not have the same ideology, nor do we derive similar solutions … But these different affinities are not opposed to one another (p. 209).

This issue reveals both similarities and differences between women leaders worldwide and places equal importance on individual experience, therefore rejecting the singular notion of the “universal” woman, and collective experience, which allows individual women to also be included in a “whole” without negating their individualism as a lens from which to interpret data gained because of its allowance for multiple perspectives according to both gender and culture (Harding, 1991).

Whitney H. ShermanDepartment of Educational Leadership, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA


Anzaldua, G. (1983), “La prieta”, in Moraga, C. and Anzaldua, C. (Eds), This Bridge Called My Back, Writings by Radical Women of Color, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, New York, NY, pp. 198–209

Cooney, T.M. and Uhlenberg, P. (1989), “Family-building patterns of professional women: a comparison of lawyers, physicians, and postsecondary teachers”, Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol. 51, pp. 749–58

Cubillo, L. and Brown, M. (2003), “Women into educational leadership and management: international differences?”, Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 41 No. 3, pp. 278–91

Grogan, M. (2000), “Laying the groundwork for a reconception of the superintendency from feminist postmodern perspectives”, Educational Administration Quarterly, Vol. 36, pp. 117–42

Harding, S. (1991), Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking from Women’s Lives, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY

Loder, T.L. (2005), “Women administrators negotiate work-family conflicts in changing times: an intergenerational perspective”, Educational Administration Quarterly, Vol. 41 No. 5, pp. 741–76

Madsen, S.R. (2007), “Developing leadership: exploring childhoods of women university presidents”, Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 45 No. 1, pp. 99–118

Mahitivanichcha, K. and Rorrer, A.M. (2006), “Women’s choices within market constraints: re-visioning access to and participation in the superintendency”, Educational Administration Quarterly, Vol. 42 No. 4, pp. 483–517

Newton, R. (2006), “Does recruitment message content normalize the superintendency as male?”, Educational Administration Quarterly, Vol. 42 No. 4, pp. 551–77

Perna, L.W. (2001), “The relationship between family responsibilities and employment status”, Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 72 No. 5, pp. 584–611

Shakeshaft, C. (1989), Women in Educational Administration, Sage, Newbury Park, CA

Ward, K. and Wolf-Wendel, L. (2004), “Academic motherhood: managing complex roles in research universities”, The Review of Higher Education, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 233–57

Wolfinger, N.H., Mason, M.A. and Goulden, M. (2008), “Problems in the pipeline: gender, marriage, and fertility in the ivory tower”, The Journal of Higher Education, Vol. 79 No. 4, pp. 388–405

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