Reflection: Power of Women in Education and Technology
K-12 education has been supported and driven by women for years - women make up over 75% of public school teachers and 54% of school principals.
K-12 education has been supported and driven by women for years — women make up over 75% of public school teachers and 54% of school principals — yet women occupy relatively few senior leadership positions in companies and organizations focused on making a difference in K-12. In education technology companies, the difference is even more striking. Last year, HolonIQ reported that just 13% of edtech CEOs and leaders are women. More progress needs to be made (and at the same time, edtech fares better than fintech and healthtech at 5% and 10%, respectively).
This spring, I saw some tangible reminders that we’re beginning to see signs of real change in the education technology space.
In early April, I had the pleasure of attending the ASU+GSV Summit in San Diego. After years of virtual conferences, it was wonderful to be back in person again to connect with so many leaders focused on improving education through the power of technology.
I had the privilege of hosting the Power of Women Awards, which recognize the power of women to change the world for good so all people have equal access to the future. Established by Deborah Quazzo, Managing Partner of GSV Ventures, the purpose of these awards is to recognize female CEOs who lead and achieve successful outcomes in highly scaled organizations and who drive innovation and meaningful change with civic and philanthropic organizations in the learning and talent technology sector. The 2022 honorees are:
- Jamie Candee (CEO, Edmentum)
- Smita Deorah (co-founder & co-CEO, LEAD School)
- Krista Endsley (CEO, EMS LINQ, Inc.)
- Kim Smith (former co-founder & CEO, Pahara Institute, and entrepreneur in residence, Cambiar Education)
- Jane Swift (former governor of Massachusetts and now president & executive director, LearnLaunch)
In the run up to the awards event, I had the opportunity to speak with these five leaders individually, and I am struck by how well each of them live this purpose. In these conversations, we discussed professional journeys, leadership philosophies, challenges, opportunities and advice for aspiring leaders. It’s not a surprise that five successful edtech chief executives would have some common experiences, and it’s perhaps even less surprising when all five of those executives are women leading in the space. And yet, the common themes that arose in these conversations are noteworthy.
With a strong belief in the purpose of their solutions and services, each of these leaders speak about making a difference for students around the world by leveraging the power of innovation and technology to create meaningful opportunity and change. This isn’t just lip service — when they speak about purpose, you can hear the genuine passion in their voices. While some may dispute authentic commitment to purpose as a prerequisite to a leader’s success, that intrinsic motivation is critical fuel to propel us through the challenges we inevitably face at work and at home.
The Balancing Act
So many of us have different approaches to — and shared challenges — balancing and blending family and professional responsibilities while being recognized as a leader. Each of these five leaders have talked about the grit, tenacity and focus required to achieve their professional goals. Transitioning from guilt and self-doubt about not being present “enough” for family to recognizing themselves as role models and positive examples for children and loved ones is an important personal transformation for any aspiring leader.
At the same time, over the past two years, women have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of the pandemic and especially so for women of color. According to McKinsey, the pandemic had a near-immediate impact on women’s employment, with one in four women considering leaving the workforce or downshifting their careers. To keep women in the workforce, organizations need to address the reasons women leave the workforce — such as benefits, leave, career progression and pay — and intentionally cultivate workplaces that support, challenge and promote women.
Inclusivity and Belonging
Kim, Jane, Krista, Smita and Jamie are all exemplary leaders. They each describe leading their organizations and initiatives unapologetically, as their whole authentic selves. As importantly, they talk about cultivating workplaces in which they want to work, so other people will want to work there, too.
Whether we take a seat at the table or build our own table, allies and accomplices are an important part of success and a critical component of a healthy professional experience. As we talk about building allies and finding mentors, we must think equally about being an authentic ally and mentor. Being an ally, accomplice and mentor helps shape a workplace and a world in which we each would want to work and live. Often, these are the meaningful relationships we learn the most from, feel the proudest of and that help each of us build our path to our next opportunity.
Leading by Example
With this context, I step into the role of CEO at Cambium Learning Group more energized than ever before as we strive to close the opportunity gap in education. I do so with deep gratitude for the leaders who have come before, the firsts, the trail-blazers, the champions and mentors. I also bring with me deep gratitude for the leaders, collaborators, and colleagues in edtech and education today — all pushing, pulling, conspiring, innovating and striving to create opportunity for all people. Each of us lead by example, intentionally or not, in the way we show up for one another everyday, and that in itself is an opportunity to change the world. Let’s do it intentionally.
There is more work to be done, and we are here to do it.