The purpose of this study was to examine the phenomenon of women achieving the superintendency by collecting and discerning current female Wisconsin JK/K-grade 12 public school district superintendents' perceptions of what enabled them to obtain this position. Data was obtained through phone interviews conducted with 70 women superintendents during the 2009-2010 school year, reflecting a 95% participation rate.
Through the use of a phenomenological methodology, the research uncovered the essence of enablers women found helped them to achieve the superintendent's position. In addition to the women's thoughts on enablers to the superintendency, during the interviews demographic information was obtained.
In Wisconsin 18% of superintendents were women with more women being located in the southern part of the state and in JK/K-grade 8 school district settings. School size, however, appeared to have very little effect as to whether a male or female would be hired.
For 86% of the women their entry into the superintendency was unplanned. Two factors were uncovered as being important influencing factors for women: 1) Receiving a "tap on the shoulder" and 2) Their ability to make a difference. The key enablers identified included: 1) Being the right fit, 2) Timing—being in the right place at the right time, 3) Educational preparation, 4) Varied educational experience, and 5) Support of family and mentors.
Additional areas of research included the women's thoughts on the role of gender bias in achieving the superintendency and entering the superintendency from within the district as was the pathway for 47% of the women studied.
Included in the study were suggestions for further research and recommendations shared by the women superintendents for enabling and encouraging other women to enter into the superintendency.
Women can and are entering the superintendency. This study revealed what women perceived as enablers for achieving this role. While important to know, if nothing is done with this information, no change will result, and a large "untapped" source of educational leadership will remain. At a time when there is a desperate need for leaders, things need to change for everyone involved—especially for the students.