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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Women on the Rise: A Single-Sex Leadership Development Program and Its Potential Impact on the Gender Gap in Independent School Leadership

  • Author(s): Clouser, Rachel Danjczek
  • Advisor(s): Christie, Christina A
  • et al.

This multiple methods study investigated Women Rising, a yearlong women-only leadership development program, exploring the program’s impact on past participants’ career trajectories and their interest in the headship, as well as investigating the current head of school hiring process to see if gender bias exists. With those goals in mind, the study sought to answer two research questions: In what ways, if any, does a yearlong women’s leadership program have an impact on leadership career trajectories of participants? What impact, if any, does participation in a yearlong women’s leadership program have on increasing the number of women hired as heads of school?

Data were gathered from a survey sent to Women Rising past participants as well as interviews with past participants, search firm representatives, and head of school search committee chairs. Both in the surveys and interviews, Women Rising participants showed an increase in self-efficacy, to the point that they were not only applying for leadership positions, but also comfortable negotiating for changes so that the position best fit them. Women Rising provided a much-needed opportunity for women to come together and share their experiences in what they consider to be a safe space; the relationships they built in the program, specifically stated as relationships with other women in independent schools, was cited as the greatest benefit of Women Rising. The study also showed a slight increase in interest in the head of school position after women participated in Women Rising.

Another finding was the vast disparity of identified qualities needed to be a head of school from search firms, search committee chairs, and Women Rising past participants. It is important that all three of these groups understand the position and what it entails. Also, the head of school position and hiring process is still seen as biased, limiting women’s abilities to make it into the finalist round. Without structural changes that address these biases, women will continue to face difficulty in achieving a headship position. Recommendations include the creation of a women-only head of school program and a national mentor network that women in NAIS schools can access.

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