The Educator forum is the place for positive industry interaction and welcomes your professional and informed opinion.

Calling all female principals: where are you?

Notify me of new replies via email
Brett Henebery | 12 Dec 2014, 10:29 AM Agree 0
Why do you think female principals are lacking in our schools?
  • AP for life | 12 Dec 2014, 02:11 PM Agree 0
    I am not a principal (and I have been an acting one in 3 schools) because I am not prepared to cop the workload, the abuse, the thankless job that being a principal is. Principals have limited support, yet are the first to be accused if anything goes wrong. Maybe there are more male principals because females are smarter!
  • Smart Female AP | 12 Dec 2014, 02:58 PM Agree 0
    I wholeheartly agree with the above comment.
  • Interested educator | 13 Dec 2014, 11:16 AM Agree 1
    I work in a fairly unique situation where there is a strong team of female leaders. Following on from the previous responses I have made some interesting observations, although do not wish to stereotype. Male Principals may have their wife/partner supporting them with dinner being made, housework done, responsibility of running children to after school events etc. This may assist with the juggle of the heavy workload which exists for Principals. There seems to me to be stronger use of male leaders getting their PA to assist in areas where the female leader does these jobs themselves. I have also noted such patterns in the business world. Social acceptance of the male being the one to give orders and people making assumptions as to who the leader of the school is by gender are also interesting behaviours which could stem from the historical model of schooling which has not yet been broken.
  • | 13 Dec 2014, 07:08 PM Agree 1
    Happy AP,
    All the above comments make perfect sense. I feel that it somehow goes much deeper than straightforward gender roles and responsibilites. Male leaders who are strong are admired, even if things go wrong. Strong female leaders are perceived to be bullies, especially if things go wrong.
    • Brian | 18 Feb 2016, 04:08 PM Agree 0
      I have heard that comment many times. Bullies are bullies, male or female. At the coal-face they are never perceived as "strong leaders" in my experience, regardless of gender.
  • A male who has had three female principal | 14 Dec 2014, 06:43 AM Agree 0
    This article is misleading, where are the statistics?

    In this phenomenon of male principals in primary or high school?

    Is this phenomenon is city or country?

    Is this phenomenon is special school or comprehensive?

    There are many female principals in NSW.

    In Holroyd school group, where these two principals reside, many principals are female.

    Many are Directors and Executive Directors are female, the Head of DEC is female.

    Statistical driven 'stories' are one thing, unsubstantiated 'stories' on such an important issue is another.

    • Secondary DP since 97 | 14 Dec 2014, 03:39 PM Agree 0
      None so blind as those who choose not to see! Open your eyes! I do believe the trend is definately more pronounced in secondary than primary schools, but then the inequity is even more pronounced at director of education level ,above Principal level. At least some of our Primary sisters who made it to Principal level are eligible to apply for directors positions, while many of their secondary female colleagues are still frustrated at trying to break through to Principal level, let alone higher corporate positions.
  • Not bitter, just worn out. | 14 Dec 2014, 03:26 PM Agree 1
    As a female AP who has had 6 male Principals (2 of whom were "medically retired') and 1 female principal I have to say the female was the only competent leader. She was amazing and supportive and while on her staff 6 (not all female) of us gained promotions or permanent jobs. As an AP I can say I am heartily sick of my male bosses depending on us to run the school and get things done. As I near the end of my career I am prepared to let the last one dig a hole big enough to bury himself. Why are men over 50 seen as good candidates for promotion but women over 50 rarely get one.
    • Also worn out | 15 Jan 2015, 08:44 AM Agree 1
      I totally agree! I feel that the female principal I had supported and encouraged me to aspire to being more than a classroom teacher. My male principal just heaps more work onto us, the female AP's.
    • •••••••• | 17 Jun 2015, 09:25 PM Agree 0
      I hear what you are saying!
      Yes - men do just lump the work on the female staff further down the food chain.
      As an AP I too have seen this over and over and over again.
      Here in New Zealand I believe that men find it much easier to win principal positions than women do.
      Males seem to be the first choice of Boards of Trustees who are looking for a principal.
      Frequently, I have seen a clear lack of curriculum knowledge being overlooked when a male applies.
      Sexism is alive a well in the education arena!
  • | 14 Dec 2014, 03:26 PM Agree 0
    The inequity in secondary schools is obvious to women but why would the presently empowered men want to change anything, even if they did recognise the gender in balance for what it is. the glass ceiling still exists throughout Australian sectors but one would think that if it doesnt change in a female majority sector like education, what chance do our daughters have to gain promotions? Should they choose to "have it all" with a career and children then something usually gives as they spread themselves too thin. Usually women in this category place family over work when the work requirement is to complete with men who often work 24-7 and expect their executive to do the same. Work hours and expectations need to acknowledge responsibilities women take on in families. For example, professional development sessions, often considered necessary for promotion, are held at my school before and after school - times when some of our most capable female teachers are dropping off or picking up children, it does incur less cost to hold sessions at this time, but the ultimate cost to females in our profession is obvious - either leave the children and family responsibilities or choose a career. Despite my pointing this inequity of opportunity as it does not allow our promising female talented staff to either present or receive development, it continues because as a lone female upper executive voice among the many males, my views are not considered mainstream. Although I do not consider myself a feminist, we have not advanced our position since equal pay was gained in the 70s. By the time female staff have raised their families, many then encounter the next inequity...ageism is alive and well in Australian society too! So for a profession that is often considered family friendly, the reality is it actually is no more supportive of female executive than oter sectors in Australia.
    • Noise | 14 Dec 2014, 05:17 PM Agree 0
      I think someone should look carefully at the ratio male/female principals in NSW.
      I would be surprised at the 39%.

      Let's have a table with every school, or group of schools with the ratio.
      All I'm reading in the commentary is rhetoric.
    • EarthLisa | 19 Dec 2014, 10:08 PM Agree 0
      Just to help you out, given you had time to post a suggestion that someone, apparently not you, should look for actual statistics. So here you go, cut and pasted unaltered from a NSW Government website, with figures from 2012 (

      Current position
      As at June 2012 in NSW, 56 percent of primary school principals and 38 percent of secondary school principals of NSW government schools were women.

      Gender gap:
      Women constitute a slight majority of primary school principals.
      The proportion of female principals in secondary schools lags behind males by 24 percentage points.

      The direction of change over time
      There has been a gradual increase in the proportion of female principals over the last
      five years.

      Between 2008 and 2012, the proportion of female principals in primary schools rose by 6 percentage points, and the proportion of female principals of secondary schools rose by 3 percentage points.

      In each of primary and secondary schools, the proportion of female principals rose by 2 percentage points in the 12 months to June 2012. See Figure 5.11.

      As at June 2012, women made up 81 percent of the total school-based teaching staff (including principals) in primary schools, and 56 percent of total teaching staff in secondary schools.

      Set against these figures, women’s share of principal positions is disproportionately low, but gradually increasing. See Figure 5.11.
  • Kerry Willcox-McGinnes | 15 Dec 2014, 08:59 AM Agree 0
    As a female principal, I am likewise concerned about the lack of female principals. I have always worked hard as a principal and as a teacher and as the mother of 3 children I understand the work load at home as well as at school. Assuming that the female worker has a partner, I fail to understand why the responsibility for the home is a female issue. My husband did and still does his share of housework, shopping, cooking and child care and I would have expected nothing less of him. Men need to step up and accept their responsibilities and women need to stop taking the responsibility for everything at home.
    I also believe that succession planning is vital - gradually step our talented staff into leadership positions. Support them and teach them to control and prioritize their work load. Send positive messages about the job as well as discussing the negative and challenging aspects of the job. It is a great job.
    I would be interested to know what the stats on male principal versus female principal suicide as I am hearing of more and more male principals who take their own life.
  • chaugen | 15 Dec 2014, 10:32 AM Agree 0
    I am an elementary school principal working with 5 other female principals in our district (and 1 male). Our traditional secondary site are 3 female leaders and 1 male. I don't have a lot to say about the why of these numbers but enjoy our tight knit group of leaders. Age would be an interesting question as well. Of the 7 of us, 2 are over 50 and the other five are under. Most people who meet me for the first time, upon learning what I do comment, "You're not an old white man." Nope. I'm not. But that was my experience as a kid too. All old men, but not all white. Food for thought.
  • Kiwi principal | 15 Dec 2014, 01:14 PM Agree 0
    Hi there Australian educators!
    I am a female principal of a co-ed state secondary school in New Zealand. Here too, it is more likely that men will be appointed to such positions than women, and many of the negative statements made in the above comments would or could also be made in NZ.
    However, I would like to encourage other female educational leaders to consider principalship. It is a very exciting and challenging job, with plenty of opportunity to make a difference for our students, staff and communities. As women, we often bring a special perspective to those opportunities, and we need to be willing to put our hands up for the leadership positions in schools.
  • Secondary Female Principal | 17 Dec 2014, 01:28 PM Agree 1
    I would like to see the hard data on this. I am a female secondary principal and am one of comparatively few in my area in rural NSW, however, my city colleagues do not appear to be representative of this imbalance.

    As a female leader in a rural community I am often amused by the 'male boss' stereotype (and it is a stereotype). It is generally pointed out me as a preferred model when someone is unhappy- either in public or via social media- and runs along the lines of me needing to be replaced by a strong man (with the occasional addition of expletives and sexist descriptive language).

    As a female leader I am unfazed by the above and enjoy the process of developing my staff and celebrating their successes, regardless of gender. I have enjoyed raising my own children as a single mother and have nothing to prove to anyone but myself. I love my job. The fabulous kids in our school enjoy the support of an exec team comprising 5 women and 2 men and our DP is also female.

    I wonder if articles such as this one actually do more harm than good. Surely as educators, we should simply be appointing the 'best person' for the job and celebrating success, regardless of gender. I applaud the success of both female and male colleagues in Public Education, including the ones mentioned in the article. That said, why couldn't the focus of the article have been our clever, worthy Principal colleagues, not some flimsy, uncontextual data.
  • Gail | 13 Feb 2015, 10:35 AM Agree 1
    I wonder how New Zealand statistics compare with those of Australia. I have been a (female) principal for 17 years and agree with the statements above.
    I know that many of my male collegues have a different leadership style than mine. I am a 'hands on' leader who will put support for my staff to do their job before management of property and finance......(I do this BUT ........ leadership of the school comes first)
  • •••••••• | 17 Jun 2015, 09:34 PM Agree 0
    Anyone who believes that 'the best person for the job - regardless of gender' is being appointed by Boards of Trustees in rural New Zealand has their head in the sand. Boards of Trustees are hugely influenced by gender.
  • Diana | 16 Nov 2015, 02:18 PM Agree 0
    It is possible that women simply do not want the thankless task that principalship has become: in fact, I am surprised that anyone wants it.

    Look at the weight of expectation schools now struggle to bear: 'Domestic Violence' education; bullying prevention; recognising kids in any kind of social or familial danger; recognising those possibly under drug or alcohol influence; assessing kids for special academic or psychological help; assessing 'best practice' for those with a spectrum disorder; negotiating and juggling hostilities between parents; knowing whether students are fostered; biologically parented or 'cared for by significant others'. And I have not yet mentioned the real, core business of education facilities - education.
    Schools have become respite centres; community 'do-drop-in' centres; places of refuge and safe haven for some students; places parents send their kids to acknowledge some accord with the law of the land; as well as, fortunately for us who teach them, places wherein kids want to learn.

    Weak social structures (or none) have dumped their failures onto the only existing institution to which kids most often turn up - the school. Social engineers and politicians' expect - no, they demand - that teachers and school leaders 'fix' the problems that 'new age parenting', political correctness and any and all other weak-minded, disabled and useless social and cultural trends have created.

    I return to my earlier statement: I am surprised that anyone would want leadership of the only institution remaining that has even a remote chance of taking this chaos in hand, while so little money, support and 'free rein' are given to the office of leader.
    Why then, would a woman, who might derive much more satisfaction from contributing face to face with the desperate and the needy among her student charges and who might believe in her heart that she can transform more lives from the classroom, take on a role that will bring her, as it does her male counterparts, more grief than the salary is worth?

    • Rob | 08 May 2017, 01:06 PM Agree 0
      I was going to write a long reply to this thread until I read Diana's response.....she has expressed the situation perfectly and I can therefore only add 'I agree'. By the way as a male principal I have worked with and for a wonderful female principal who led the school community brilliantly and embraced all staff irrespective of gender. I also had the unfortunate experience of working for another female principal who was totally inadequate in so many ways, least of all her inability to accept that any criticism of her was due to her lack of skill, insight, empathy or courage. It had absolutely nothing to do with her reproductive organs. My opinion, quite simply is that many women do not see principalship as something to aspire to as they recognise that it is often a thankless job and they are smart enough to not put their hands up for it. I think the glass ceiling analogy not accurate in this instance. I have had 3 wonderful female AP's and not one of them saw my position as something they wanted to take on.
  • Greta | 10 Dec 2015, 04:54 PM Agree 0
    All good comments!

    I'd like to see the statistics on how many male to female candidates are applying for the principal positions. Without that information it is difficult to comment on whether males are being chosen over females. Yes, it is noteworthy that just over 80% of teachers in primary schools are female and only 56% are principals, but are 80% of applicants for principal female?

    I am a female Assistant Principal in primary school and have relieved as principal on a few occasions. I know I would make an excellent principal, but the years of extra work demands deters me somewhat (just writing the CV is extremely time consuming!).

    I do feel like I would have an equal chance of getting the principal job if I had equal experience to a male. In my experience (20 years), I have worked under 4 female principals and 3 male. In response to a previous comment about male principals being the ones to dump the workload onto his staff and the females being more balanced and compassionate - the two best bosses I have had have both been male - awesome practitioners who are all about student outcomes and have a great balance of compassion for staff. The two worst I have worked under have been female - who were demanding and almost bully-like in their interactions. So I will not draw conclusions that it is gender that made these bosses who they are.

    I don't think it is necessarily a gender thing - and the more we latch onto that, the longer the attitude will stay. I think it is about the support of aspiring leaders and the workload we face. New educational reforms and support pathways in leadership are a good start. But we really need to be looking at the system and workload for teachers. We have so much "stuff" that it is now actually taking away from our core business of teaching! Why would we want to take on more?
  • A female with ambition, but not for Principalship | 29 Apr 2016, 02:33 PM Agree 0
    You only have to read these articles: and

    to find the answer to that question! The shortage comes when they are being bullied out. Who would want to take on a role where you can be named and shamed in the media for just doing your job!
  • | 29 Apr 2016, 04:43 PM Agree 0
    Wow. As a male, reading some of these comments astonish. 'Not wanting to stereo-type'-you just did! I work in an area that has just promoted 7 wonderful ladies to lead and 0 men. Maybe I should complain.
  • Mike M | 11 May 2016, 01:07 PM Agree 0
    It takes more than just experience and "being there" to be a leader of any sort. Why are there so few female chefs but lots of female cooks? Why so few female orchestra conductors? Why so few female structural engineers? Is it just possible that gender does include limitations as well as positive attributes? This slavish adherence to the 50/50 principle is infuriating.
    • A female engineer and educator | 27 Jun 2016, 07:40 PM Agree 0
      Mike, are you really implying that females are limited by gender in their leadership?
      Are you teaching female students and encouraging them to achieve the same that their male counterparts?

      There are studies documenting the subtle discrimination that discourage girls to become engineers, such as the sons are giving precedence over their female siblings to use the family computer, the physics teacher asking male students first and ignoring the girls, and the IT teacher using boy's games to introduce programming. Only the most obstinate female students ignore all these signals and persist in doing an engineering degree.

      It is ok for female teachers to opt out of being principals, but it would be good to know if there were steps that prevent them to apply or other reasons behind that behaviour. We are not aiming for 50/50 but for an even field for those that want to be principals or whatever role or profession they choose.
  • Secondary school female principal | 17 Jul 2016, 09:32 PM Agree 1
    As a female principal of a large complex secondary school I do not think the imbalance is due to anything sinister. I was appointed as a principal at the relatively young age of 37 and the principals of the surrounding secondary schools were all male. Both my supervisor and these local principals were male and they were all incredibly supportive of me. Post my appointment I have found it to be other females who have often been the people who have made my life difficult - including another female principal who conducted email conversations with members of my staff about my personal life. I get really tired of hearing people speak of the imbalance. In my experience, people are promoted as they are the best people for the job not because of their gender and that is exactly the way it should be.

    The bigger issue in education at the moment is the horrendous abuse principals are subjected to without consequence both at work and via the Internet. Much of this abuse is totally unreasonable and based on lies designed to humiliate and break a person's confidence. It is this that will likely cause more females to walk away from the profession. I have been accused of being on a power trip because I expect certain standards at the school I work in. The Education Act actually states that a person should not direct offensive comments at a staff member in the presence of a student!! The implication is that it is fine to do this if a student is not present. Unbelievable.
  • Susan Hyde | 20 Apr 2017, 10:57 AM Agree 0
    I am not sure what is happening in the eastern states however in South Australia the situation is quite different. After a quick calculation of primary schools there are 220 female principals to 140 male principals. In the secondary schools In the secondary schools we have 34 women principals and 31 male principals. And I didn't count all the special services, the r-12 schools etc.
    From my point of view being a principal of a school is a honour, its interesting because you can drive change and make a difference. After leading 4 secondary schools I advise you to stop worrying about the bureaucratic demands and settle them as best you can with your school in mind. As they say, you can only get done what gets done. Policy is settled at the site and that may mean you end up with something different and maybe better. Enjoy.
  • | 10 Jul 2017, 10:22 AM Agree 0
    That comment resonated too much. Thank you
  • Frank | 18 Jan 2018, 03:50 PM Agree 0
    I guess the obvious question is why does it always fall to the female staff members to take full responsibility for their kids? Surely this is a much broader discussion than being overlooked for roles due to gender. Supportive partners are essential in being able to function in a leadership role. On the issue of gender, having worked for both female and male principals I have to say there were outstanding leaders and fairly ordinary leaders of both sexes.
Post a reply