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Asking the right questions: Gender gap revealed in pay for international school leaders

Asking the right questions: Gender gap revealed in pay for international school leaders

Jane Larsson, Executive Director, Council of International Schools (CIS)

“Guess what I found?” Alejandra asked, as she stepped into my office. Alejandra Neyra is our data analyst, and she had just taken ownership of our annual compensation surveys, which explore salaries and benefits for international school leaders and staff. As part of our R&D team, her job is to ask the right questions and to evaluate trends. We’ve been administering this survey and sharing the results annually for a number of years, but Alejandra has begun probing the potential impacts of the data we were collecting, asking new questions to guide decision-making in schools.

Given the significance of the gap, we agreed to dig deeper, looking at the gap across years of experience in leadership, years of education and years of experience as a head in the current school. Her findings? The gap persisted across all factors.

Our surveying continues, and despite our initial reports of this finding, we found the gap widened this year, increasing from 17 to 22%. Is it because more women participated? Last year, 26% of respondents were women, as compared with 20% in 2016-2017.

There are bigger questions we have yet to answer…

How many international schools continue to use different salary scales for local and international hires?

What are the other factors we should evaluate when comparing salaries (and benefits)?

As I’ve reflected on our findings, I can see this as just the beginning. We serve diverse school communities in 116 countries. Our schools have all committed to the development of global citizens through high-quality international education. We serve public, private, owned, company and government schools. We know that many institutions use salary scales for teachers and leaders, so we typically don’t see a gender gap for roles with remuneration scales. It’s interesting then to see a gap emerge in non-scaled roles, if remuneration has traditionally been based on parity.

In advocating for salary parity in a specific institution, we should also advocate for meaningful benefits. Someone hired from outside a country has different needs than someone hired within a country. International schools have typically provided a rich array of associated benefits for international hires. But how do they invest in their local hires to increase retention and foster growth?

At CIS, we’ll continue to identify the questions we need to answer, as we work to improve the structures and systems in schools established for the purpose of educating diverse communities. 

Jane Larsson ( is the Executive Director of the Council of International Schools (CIS), a global non-profit membership organization focused on the development of global citizenship. CIS provides International Accreditation, Leadership Search, Career & Recruitment, University Admission Guidance and Research Services to schools and universities around the world.


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