President's Corner

The Last of the Firsts
By Deborah L. Kerr/School Administrator, March 2020

Women leaders are defying history.

A record-breaking number of women were elected or re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the 116th Congress, bringing the total number of women serving in Congress to 127 — roughly 24 percent of the seats, according to the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

More Fortune 500 companies are led by female CEOs than ever before. According to Fortune, as of last June, 33 companies on the list are led by women, reflecting corporate boards’ intentional efforts to boost diversity, although the number of women of color in top positions is still lagging.

Women are securing leadership roles in traditionally male-dominated fields such as information technology, engineering and skilled trades. Research suggests the number of women leaders in IT services, manufacturing, and hardware/networking is up about 25 percent in the past four decades. These women have become leaders in their fields because of their determination, diversity of thought and vision for a better world. They have ignited a movement to inspire every woman to become the “last of the first” in their respective fields and blaze trails for other women leaders.

In 1987, June Gabler was elected the first woman president of AASA. It took 122 years for the association to elect our first woman president, but in the past 13 years, AASA has elected six female presidents! Thank you, June, for being the last of the first women leaders of our organization.

This new decade can be a blank slate for women in any leadership role to be inspired to define their destiny. Although only 25 percent of the nation’s superintendents are women, as an association, we are making significant progress in recognizing the important role that women leaders play as district administrators. AASA celebrates and recognize women in leadership through high-quality professional learning programs and networking events. The last of the firsts for women leaders are paving the way for us and our children to achieve their dreams and aspirations.

We must be intentional in positioning more women leaders into the superintendent pipeline. Yes, our girls need to see women in leadership roles, but they need to see women who look like them. If every one of us recruited a talented staff member into this leadership pathway, our schools would equitably represent the female populations we serve.

Let’s commit to working together to inspire the girls in our lives to champion what they believe in, use their voices to spark change and stand together with open minds and hearts. Together, we can and will be the change to provide equitable access for our students, but especially our girls and women colleagues.

My wishes and hopes for AASA and leaders nationwide are to:

» Lead this charge by creating opportunities for women to network and develop their leadership skills.

» Advocate for changes to eliminate barriers for all women aspiring to become superintendents and district leaders.

» Empower others by serving as mentors and critical friends to guide aspiring leaders on this journey.

» Recruit talented women to lead in our school communities, particularly those of color.

We have great opportunities ahead of us. Let’s commit to a world where women are equally and equitably represented in positions to influence and lead. Let’s create opportunities to not only develop women leaders but also support them along the way. Let’s build this pipeline so this endeavor is a hallmark of our leadership. Let’s make it our priority to advance women leaders as each becomes the last of the firsts.

DEBORAH KERR is AASA president in 2019-20. Twitter: @DrDLKerr