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Increasing the number of female superintendents: a student profile with Heather Henderson

On November 8, 2017, Heather Henderson became the 9th doctoral student at City University of Seattle to successfully defend her dissertation, which focused on gender disproportionality in K-12 superintendent roles.

Motivated by her personal, first-hand experiences in the field, her primary goal was to bring an awareness of the imbalance between the numbers of female to male superintendents, and then, based on the recommendations that stemmed from her research, she hopes to bring about positive change in the field.

Heather spent 14 years in Alberta and Saskatchewan as a superintendent, director and deputy superintendent. She has witnessed first-hand the lack of female representation in those roles.

Through her research, Heather intends to share her knowledge and support other women who are taking the next steps in their career. Heather found that traditional thinking impacts the way leadership is viewed; further research will also include methods on how that mode of thought can be shifted.

Heather will share her findings through professional organizations and with teachers and school administrators.

How to increase the number of female superintendents

Even in a mainstream environment, Heather believes that the number of females in superintendent roles can be increased to bring about proportionality. One key to this increase is a combination of gender-specific mentorship and networking.

Heather wrote in her dissertation that “disproportionality may be lessened when women choose to advance their own social capital and their careers through conscious networking and the building of relationships linked to solid communication strategies.

“These opportunities may be found through mentorship programs,” she wrote. “We need to check-in with others, ask for their assistance and support.”

We caught up with Heather and she discussed her life post-dissertation.

What was your favorite part of the doctoral journey? The most difficult?

I loved the learning and the interactions with faculty and other students on this journey. I think the most difficult part was remaining motivated.

Was a faculty member or mentor helpful to you?

I had many supporters – there are many colleagues and faculty members, as well as the Provost and Dean, who helped me along the way. However, I have to say that my Chair, Dr. Pressley Rankin was an awesome support and guide. Pressley was always there to answer my questions and push me forward. He’s my chair, and he’s my friend. Always there when I had a questions, even if they seemed foolish.

Dr. Rankin says that he “was proud to be Heather’s chair. She was everything a chair could want in a student.  Not only was she open to feedback, she had an inquiring mindset, and she was always quick to complete revisions.  Her attentiveness to feedback and revision helped the entire process move quickly and allowed the committee and myself to always have her work in our minds. I believe her work will have an impact in her field and I can’t wait to see her published.”

Do you have a philosophy of leadership you would like to share?

Leadership is about helping others to grow and flourish and requires individual learning – as well as being willing to accept, adapt, or shift when difficulties or changes are imminent, forecasted, or necessary. It is important to work together with others and to seek the best solutions.

Effective leaders build and craft strong relationships, are honest and sincere, have the best interests of people and organizations in mind, and are willing to challenge the status quo in a respectful manner.  Leadership must focus on the strength in the relational and social aspects of working together with others.

What advice can you give to other students?

Keep going, seek support from others, and know you can do it! Above all, I would go back to ask others for support and help, not be afraid to ask questions and seek clarity. Believe in yourself!!

What will you do, now that you no longer have a dissertation to work on?

I love to travel, explore new cultures, meet new people, and develop new friendships throughout the world. I also enjoy reading and spending quiet as well as fun times with family and friends.

Congratulations, Dr. Henderson on your exciting achievement!

If you’d like more information about how you can obtain a Doctor of Education in Leadership, Master of Arts in Leadership, or a Master of Arts in Adult Education, visit CityU. All of our classes are online and designed for the working professional. You can also request more information about any of our programs. We’d love to talk with you!

This post originally appeared on the CityU.edu blog. You can also view it there.