Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Robert Voelkel


Despite over a century of activism to increase gender equality, inequalities persist across U.S. employment sectors, including in independent K-12 schools, which are predominately staffed by women yet led by men. The purpose of this qualitative, exploratory case study was to understand the perceptions of six female heads of school and six female search consultants regarding the barriers that women face in being hired for the head of school position in independent K-12 schools. Most researchers studying gender equality have focused solely on the perspectives of female leaders, although executive search consultants are important arbiters in the search and hiring processes. An assumption of the study’s liberal feminist theoretical framework was that gender plays a part in every aspect of human experience and that society violates the value of equal rights in its treatment of women. The participants engaged in one-on-one semistructured interviews and the data were analyzed thematically. Three barriers emerged for women in attaining the independent school headship: (a) societal gender bias, (b) women’s creation of barriers for themselves, and (c) an underrepresentation of women serving as hiring decision-makers. This study concluded that women must be strategic in navigating the search process to minimize the gender bias that they are likely to face. Also, women must develop confidence in their qualifications and readiness for the job. Additionally, more women are needed as hiring decision-makers serving on school hiring teams and as search consultants. This study has the potential to create positive social change by equipping search consultants and aspiring female heads of school with strategic knowledge that could help women navigate barriers more effectively and increase gender equality in the headship.