Gwinnett County Public School teachers take part in a professional development exercise earlier this year. The school district made the Forbes list of Best Employers for Women for the second year in a row. Although 78% of its 23,000 employees are women, employment experts say it’s more than numbers that make a workplace a good fit for women. Employers need to offer support and upward mobility. COURTESY OF GWINNETT COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Gwinnett schools high on Forbes list of best workplaces for women

Although the percentage of women K-12 teachers continues to inch up — from 75% in 2000 to 77% in 2016, according to the most recent figures from the National Center for Education Statistics, that doesn’t mean all school systems provide the best support or upward mobility for female employees.

America’s Best Employers for Women 2019, a list of 300 workplaces compiled by Forbes magazine, includes only two K-12 school systems. The highest ranking school district for the second year in a row was Gwinnett County Public Schools.

At No. 19, it placed well above Florida’s Broward County Schools at No. 107.

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With nearly 23,000 employees, 78% of whom are women, Gwinnett County Public Schools is the largest employer in Gwinnett County, one of the largest employers in Georgia and the 14th largest school district in the country.

But numbers alone don’t make an organization a good place to work.

“If all it took was having a lot of women work for a company, then every school system should have made the list,” said Melissa J. Williams, associate professor of business and management at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. “It used to be that most of the teachers and support staff were women and all the principals and administrators were men.”

But giving women a voice in decision-making as well as supporting their roles as caregivers are strong factors in successful workplace environments for women.

The No. 1 business on Forbes’ list is The Estée Lauder Companies, which climbed 21 spots from last year.

In describing what catapulted the cosmetics company to the top of the list, Forbes said it “has taken care to cultivate a culture that supports female employees: 84% of its workforce, 53% of its vice president-and-above executives and 43% of its board of directors are women,” and ensuring equity among its employees “has been core to the company since its namesake founder started peddling a line of four skincare products in 1946.”

It’s that same sense of valuing staff that helped Gwinnett come in at No. 10 on last year’s list as well.

“We allow staff to be leaders in many different ways,” said Linda Anderson, associate superintendent for human resources and talent management. “They can look to district level administration, principals and assistant principals in the schools or lead teachers in the classrooms. The opportunities for growth aren’t one size fits all.”

Gwinnett is so successful at growing leaders from the rank and file that the state is adopting its model to train and retain talent.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s office announced in February that the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, Georgia Department of Education and Gwinnett County Public Schools have partnered to offer leadership training and one-on-one coaching to current and aspiring school principals through the new Governor’s School Leadership Academy.

“The opportunities we offer aren’t geared toward women — we want to grow male leaders as well,” said Anderson. “It just turns out that what works well for everyone is part of a culture that traditionally has been good for women.”

Like many other school systems, Gwinnett allows children of staff to attend the school where the parents work — or at least nearby.

“When I was a principal at Level Creek my son attended school there and when I was promoted to the district office, he attended Jackson Elementary — just down the road,” Anderson said.

Williams said all school districts should look at their demographics and make efforts to be more inclusive in all areas — not just gender.

“It should be a wake-up call,” she said. “Anyplace can respect the whole person and act on that culture every day.”

Forbes polled employees to come up with the list. Respondents were first asked to rate their organizations on criteria such as working conditions, diversity and how likely they’d be to recommend their employer to others.

“We are proud of Gwinnett County Public Schools’ reputation and recognition as a top employer,” said Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks. “The fact that this recognition was earned based on the responses of ‘our people’ and their views of GCPS as an employer means a lot. The very things that Forbes surveyed respondents on— working conditions, diversity, and how likely employees would be to recommend their employer to others — are key to our district’s efforts to recruit and retain our employees.”

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