The vast majority of theses in this collection are open access and freely available. There are a small number of theses that have access restricted to the WWU campus. For off-campus access to a thesis labeled "Campus Only Access," please log in here with your WWU universal ID, or talk to your librarian about requesting the restricted thesis through interlibrary loan.

Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Department or Program Affiliation

College of Education

Degree Name

Doctorate of Education

First Advisor

Robertson, Wayne Thomas

Second Advisor

Larsen, Donald

Third Advisor

Dominguez, Kristi (Superintendent)

Fourth Advisor

Sharratt, Gene


Female superintendents continue to make up a small fraction of public-school superintendents in this country. This study focused on gathering stories of current female superintendents in the state of Washington, all of whom are within their first three years of their superintendency to determine the extent to which mentoring had an impact on their career path leading into the superintendency role and the impact of mentoring in sustaining their role as a seated superintendent.

This qualitative study focused on five essential questions:

  • What kinds of mentoring do female school superintendents experience on their pathway to becoming chief executive of a school district?
  • Of the mentoring experiences female superintendents identify, which were demonstrably positive or beneficial?
  • Of the mentoring experiences female superintendents identify, which were demonstrably negative or not beneficial?
  • To what extent, or in what ways, do current female superintendents seek opportunities to develop mentoring relationships with other female school leaders?

In this study, I focused on current female superintendents in the state of Washington who are within their first three years in the role as superintendent. The importance of identifying a group of women who were new to their superintendent position was to take advantage of their most recent experiences, stories, and opportunities while they were fresh in their minds and, by the nature of their experience, relatively new to applying their college preparatory experiences to their superintendent role. This research contributes to the existing body of research on the gender gap that persists in attracting and retaining female superintendents in Washington and across the country.

The study implemented a narrative inquiry approach using qualitative methodologies based on in-depth interviews of five female superintendents in the state of Washington. I chose narrative inquiry as the instrument for collecting authentic stories of female superintendents through a personal interview. This allowed the participants to share their continual process and interpretation of their lived experiences through the language of storytelling (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016).

The significance of this study is to examine closely why the gender gap persists for women superintendents. Data shows that women outpace men when it comes to degrees and classroom experiences, and yet women continue to be underrepresented in the top roles of our educational systems. Seventy-six percent of teachers, 56% of principals, and 30% of central office staff are female yet female superintendents represent less than one third of all superintendents in the United States (Superville, 2022). When it comes to degrees, females outperform their male counterparts by 100 to 75 for bachelor’s degrees and even fewer men graduate with a master’s degree (Reeves & Smith, 2022). A recent study conducted by ILO (In the Life Of), a women-owned organization, found that out of the open positions of the country’s top school districts, men were selected for the superintendent role in 16 of the 17 open positions in 2021 (Superville, 2022). If women hold more positions in education and outpace men when it comes to degrees and experience, why are the highest positions in the organization held by men? In a review of the recent literature, the myth that women forgo the superintendency due to societal, organizational, or parenting barriers were dispelled (Robinson et al., 2017). However, recent literature revealed that other factors such as the lack of mentorship may contribute to the persistent gender gap. Importantly, limited research exists that focus on mentorships as a pathway for females to obtain and sustain the position of superintendent. Understanding the attributes of a successful mentor-mentee relationship may be critical in discovering how to eliminate the gender gap and help to clear the path for access to these highly compensated and sought out positions for future female leaders across our nation.




mentorship, female superintendent, gender, code switching, education leaders, superintendent, washington, mentoring


Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

Women school superintendents--Washington (State); Mentoring in education--Washington (State); Educational leadership--Washington (State); Women in education--Washington (State)

Geographic Coverage

Washington (State)




doctoral dissertations




Copying of this document in whole or in part is allowable only for scholarly purposes. It is understood, however, that any copying or publication of this document for commercial purposes, or for financial gain, shall not be allowed without the author’s written permission.

Rights Statement