07/23/2019 by Karen Whitaker |

Answering the Call for More Women Leaders

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The CS&A Search and Consulting Group has been studying independent school leadership trends, observing patterns regarding who applies and gets selected for top leadership positions. One stubbornly low and disturbing statistic over the years has been the number of women in headships. While women make up the majority of teachers and leadership positions in independent schools, the percentage of women heads is 36% today, which is only 3% higher than in 2000 (see image below). Because we know this is not a pipeline issue — there are not only plenty of talented, capable, experienced women in the independent school community but also many who are interested in headship — we’re more determined than ever to develop programs and strengthen relationships that will help women achieve their leadership goals. As part of this commitment, CS&A has not only run its Women’s Institute for the past three summers to connect women educators, this year we presented at the 2019 National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS) Conference, which took place in June at Westridge School in Pasadena, California.

Bar graph of female heads of school numbers

A group of us at CS&A offered a pre-conference workshop, Answer the Rising Call for Women’s Leadership in Independent Schools. It was one of several programs created and facilitated by members of the CS&A’s Search and Consulting Group. Designed to prepare and empower emerging female leaders and aspiring school heads to pursue their leadership goals, this interactive workshop allowed participants to learn about the skills and experiences needed to become an effective leadership candidate, and for aspiring heads to hear directly from experienced women heads about their own professional journeys.

After learning about trends in the current leadership landscape, the 30 participants were treated to the inspiring stories of Wanda Holland Greene, now in her 12th year as head of The Hamlin School in San Francisco, and Kimberly Field-Marvin, who just completed her first year as head of Louise S. McGehee School in New Orleans.

Along with telling their personal stories and encouraging participants to pursue their own headship, Wanda and Kim described three important benchmarks on their paths to leadership:

  • Sponsorship: Prior to their headship appointments, Wanda and Kim worked in leadership positions in other schools with heads who recognized their potential and gave them meaningful work that allowed them to recognize and claim their identity as leaders. Their advice: Don’t be shy about cultivating relationships with potential sponsors. Let your boss know about your dreams and ask for opportunities to develop your skills and knowledge that will help position you for success.
  • Authenticity and fit: Self-knowledge and self-reflection helped both Wanda and Kim recognize schools that were the right fit for their particular styles of leadership. Their advice: Crystallize and articulate your vision of the school that’s the right profile and listen to your inner voice. Don’t grab the first leadership opportunity that comes along; instead, be selective. The goal is to find a school with a mission and values that resonate with you.
  • Willingness to relocate: Being selective and finding the right fit means your dream job probably isn’t conveniently located. Wanda, who never intended to leave New York, moved to Boston and then San Francisco. Kim moved from Vermont to New York City to New Orleans. Each has been richly rewarded with the professional satisfaction of leading school communities they love.

To address the needs of participants with less experience with the search process, our CS&A team presented a quick guide to preparing for leadership opportunities. We call it “Demystifying the Search Process.”

Core action items include:

  • Get to know the job market. Regional associations of schools and the CS&A website are excellent sources for current leadership opportunities.
  • Sharpen your leadership profile. When starting out the process of developing leadership skills, it’s best to look for opportunities that can lead you further down the path. In particular, we advise aspiring women heads to volunteer to lead school initiatives, serve on accreditation committees, and/or present at conferences.
  • Reach out to consultants. We’re always looking for aspiring leaders. We want to get to know you and connect you with leadership opportunities as they arise. Don’t be shy about requesting a conversation.
  • Practice interviewing. Ask a trusted colleague to take you through a mock interview so you can practice your responses before stepping into a high-stakes interview. This is especially important if you’ve been in your current position for a while and are just reentering the job market. The more comfortable you are talking about yourself, your experiences, skills, and interests, the stronger you’ll appear to school search committees.

The bottom line is that we are committed to helping increase the number of women heads in independent schools. So, we invite you to get to know some of the women of the CS&A Search and Consulting Group and to read about our various leadership journeys as you contemplate your next steps. Together, our professional experiences touch on all aspects of school leadership as well as law and business. All of us share a passion for helping women fulfill their leadership aspirations. Click here to view the leadership stories of some of the impressive women on the CS&A team.

Karen Whitaker is a search consultant for the firm’s Key Administrator and Head of School Practices. Since joining the firm recently, she has worked on a wide range of searches, partnering with domestic, international, Catholic, Jewish, and secular schools to appoint heads of school and key administrators across all divisions. She particularly enjoys getting to know a school’s culture and aspirations and finding the right match for each client. She can be reached at karen.whitaker@carneysandoe.com.

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