Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Charol Shakeshaft publishes "The Gender Gap in Research in Educational Administration"

In November of this year, Charol Shakeshaft, associate professor and director of the doctoral program in administration and policy studies at Hofstra University, and highly regarded as an expert in the field of women in educational administration, published the article "The Gender Gap in Educational Research"  in Educational Administration Quarterly.  In this article, Shakeshaft (1989: 325) points out that one of the problems associated with past research in educational administration is its androcentric bias, that is, “the practice of seeing the world and shaping reality through a male lens.”

While Shakeshaft had discussed androcentrism in earlier articles (for example, "Androcentric Bias" in Educational Administration Quarterly, 1986), here she discusses it as it applies directly to its impact on women aspiring to and holding school leadership positions. She calls for a transformation of the way theory and practice in educational administration are carried out in order that they might reflect the female perspective as well as that of other minorities:

because we now know that gender and race differences in behaviour and perspective do exist, it becomes important to examine theory and research for androcentrism and to expand theory and research to include the perspectives of nondominant groups. (Shakeshaft, 1989: 325)

In this article, Shakeshaft (1989: 327) details the six stages of research on women in educational administration which she feels are essential for the paradigm shift that is necessary to reflect the reality of women:

  1. Absence of women documented

  2. Search for women who have been or are administrators

  3. Women as disadvantaged or subordinate

  4. Women studied on their own terms

  5. Women as challenge to theory

  6. Transformation of theory

Her research design effectively models the practice she is advocating since her study is a comparative one which seeks the perspective of both male and female administrators.  The study targets specifically four areas, which according to Shakeshaft exemplify situations that have been problematic for women aspiring to school principal positions.

  1. Impact of gender on successful teacher supervision
  2. Male superintendents’ hiring practices
  3. Sexuality as a problem for women
  4. Female superintendents’ hiring practices

 By focusing on these areas, Shakeshaft raises the awareness of those who are in positions to hire and promote women as well as to mentor and train them.  Numerous studies by others (Dorn et al; Porat, 1993; Schmuck, 1996; Storey & Zellinsky, 1993) followed and supported her conclusions.  Let us briefly examine each of these areas.

Impact of Gender on Successful Teacher Supervision

Shakeshaft (1989: 329) emphasizes that gender identification influences both behaviour and perceptions: “Gender and gender expectations may partially determine how supervisors interact with those they supervise.” She studied the supervision of female teachers by male principals and concludes that gender is an important factor in determining what is communicated and how it is interpreted.  Males and females listen for different things – women for feelings, men for facts – and so when discussing an instructional issue they might see things from an entirely different perspective.  The female teacher may think of it in terms of a child’s learning, while a male principal may be thinking of the administration of a particular strategy.  Equally important is the discomfort in communicating with the other sex, resulting in female administrators having difficulty being “heard” by male teachers. 

Feedback is an area where women are at the greatest disadvantage.  Shakeshaft discovered that male principals are less likely to give direct feedback to female teachers. This is not the case for males supervising males.  The reason often cited by male principals for not offering criticism to women is 'fear of tears'.  The result of this phenomenon, according to the author, is that women do not get the corrective feedback they need to allow them to improve their performance as educators and it impedes male administrators from being effective supervisors.

Hiring Practices of Male Superintendents

            The second situation that has been a barrier faced by women are those factors identified by male superintendents that affect their hiring practices.  They cited reasons such as discomfort in a close working relationship with a woman, the perception of school board members, marital friction, and fear of sexual attraction as reasons for not hiring women for principal roles.

Sexuality as a Problem for Women

            The women in Shakeshaft’s study reported that they were cautious about receiving personal attention from male superordinates.  Advice women receive to ‘dress for success’ usually means dressing in ways that hide their sexuality.  While being attractive may initially open doors for a woman professionally, Shakeshaft asserts that more research is needed in the way men and women interact in order to understand this aspect of human behaviour.

Hiring Practices of Female Superintendents

            Finally, Shakeshaft refers to a study by Garfinkel (1988) with female superintendents who appeared to be non–supportive of other women and actually hired fewer of them than their male counterparts.  Female superintendents reported the pressures they felt to distance themselves from women.  Hiring women, they found, threatened their own credibility and job security.  Some reported their presence in the school board as being the token woman.  


In this article, Shakeshaft brings to light a number of important issues.  Not only does she advocate for research which includes the female perspective, she also stresses the need for studying gender and organizations.  If men and women are to learn and work as equals in schools, gender differences must be considered.  Adult educators, from potential mentors to superintendents to instructors in principal qualification courses, must be aware of them in order to appreciate and to provide appropriately for the learning and leadership styles of both men and women.  


Dorn, S.M.,C.L. O'Rourke, and R. Papalewis (2001). "Women in educational administration: Nine case studies." National Forum of Educational Administration and Supervision Journal 17E (4). Available online:

Garfinkel, B. (1988). Ways men and women in school administration conceptualize the administrative team. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Hempstead, NY: Hofstra University.

Porat, L. Karin. (1985, December). The woman in the principal’s chair in Canada, Phi Delta Kappan, 297-302.

Schmuck, P.A., (1996). Women’s place in educational administration: Past, present, and future, in Leithwood, K., et al. (Eds). International Handbook of Educational Leadership and Administration. Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Shakeshaft, Charol et al. (1984, September).  Preparing women school administrators.  Phi Delta Kappan, 67-68.

Shakeshaft, Charol. (1987). Theory in a changing reality.  Journal of Educational Equity and Leadership,  7(1), 4-20.

Shakeshaft, Charol.& Marjorie Hanson (Winter, 1986). Androcentric Bias in the Educational Administration Quarterly. Educational Administration Quarterly, 22(1), 68-92.

Shakeshaft, Charol. (1989). The gender gap in research in educational administration. Educational Administration Quarterly, 25(4), 324-337.

Storey, Vernon & Patricia Zellinsky (1993, June)  Beginning in school leadership: Women’s perspective on the first few years. The Canadian School Executive, 13(3), 3-10.  

Prepared by Mary Dell'Anno (OISE/University of Toronto)

Citation: Dell'Anno, Mary (2001). 1989: Carol Shakeshaft publishes "The gender gap in research in educational administration." In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available: (date accessed).

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