CoSN’s EdTech Leadership Survey Report of 2022 edtechleadership2022noted an upward trend of women in IT leadership from the previous report. In 2020, 25% of IT leaders were female while the 2022 report noted that more than a third of IT leaders (34%) were women. While these results are encouraging, they are not enough. At the recent ASU/GSV conference in San Diego I was surrounded by women in technology leadership roles across K-12, EdTech startups and higher education. It was an inspiring environment to immerse myself in, yet, there is still much work to do for women in IT and, in particular, underrepresented women in IT. While I attended sessions on the disruption and promise of Artificial Intelligence and the future of higher education, I found myself drawn to sessions where powerful women empowered other women to step up, be yourself, and lean into your role and your future roles!

On Monday, I attended a panel of women Superintendents titled, “Beyond Mentoring: Women Superintendents Blaze New Pathways.” Dr. Julia Rafal-Baer, facilitator of this session and co-founder and managing partner of the ILO Group, presented some startling facts from their research. While the education workforce is primarily made up of women, more than 70 percent of districts are led by men and according to the research, this gap is widening. In regards to salary, women are making 12% less than men in the same exact roles. Many of the Superintendents on stage talked specifically about how they were sponsored by a male colleague. Kyla Johnson-Trammell, the Superintendent of Oakland Unified School District, described her personal experience with a male Superintendent who pointed her to the people she needed to talk to as she began her new role, including other Superintendents, state contacts, and specific resources for negotiating her own contract. Transcend Superintendent in Residence, Susana Cordova, spoke about the role of sponsors to lift people up and help people see themselves more accurately when we can sometimes be so hard on ourselves. Many of the panelists spoke to the need to be authentic. Christina Grant, State Superintendent in Washington D.C., advised us to, “Let your work be excellent, let your yeses be yeses, let your nos be few, and be loyal to the people who brought you into the room.”

christina wocintechchat com 34gzcgavksk unsplashOn Tuesday, Sheryl Sandberg, who served as the COO of META, told her own personal story and stories about women’s struggles in the workforce. I was particularly drawn in by the Harvard Business School case study she highlighted. The study was designed to test the perceptions about women and men in the workplace and focused on an entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen. In this study, a written description of how Rozen became successful by using her out-going personality and greater personal network of powerful leaders in the technology sector was provided to half of the students, while the other half of the students received the same description with the name changed to Howard, rather than Heidi. Students were polled about their impressions of Heidi and Howard. While the students rated them equally competent, the perceptions around likeability were vastly different. Howard was the more favored colleague to work with, while Heidi was considered, “not the type of person you would want to work for.” Sheryl has written a book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, where you can read more about the challenges we face in the workplace and how to be leaders in the work that we do.

In this era of innovation and opportunity, the ASU/GSV conference “Brave New World” illuminates the courageous strides women are taking in the workforce, fearlessly shaping a future where their voices and contributions are valued and celebrated.

My six takeaways for women in IT leadership are:

  1. Share the data and the studies! Help others be informed about the inequalities that exist.
  2. Be aware of stereotypes and challenge them. (I recently challenged the fact that we always have a female notetaker at our leadership meetings!)
  3. Advocate for your own seat at the table.
  4. Know the difference between mentorship and sponsorship.
  5. Be a champion for other women. Intentionally open up doors and knock down barriers for others.
  6. Be yourself!

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Author: Sheryl Sandberg, published by Knopf on March 11, 2013

EdTech Survey CoSN

ILO Research on Women Superintendents and Pay

Harvard University Heidi and Howard Study

AUTHOR: Holly Doe, Director of Technology Regional School Unit 40 (ME), CoSN Board Member

Published on: July 18th, 2023

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