March is Women’s History Month. In honor of it, Principal Leadership asked NASSP President-Elect Raquel Martinez to share the remarks she gave last fall to female members of the Ohio Association of Secondary School Administrators.

Raquel Martinez speaks at NASSP’s annual conference. PHOTO COURTESY OF NASSP

As a woman, and more specifically a Latina, in leadership, I’ve experienced roadblocks, but also, immense support. Strong women leaders and male allies have invested in my leadership, guiding me through challenges, motivating me, and teaching me how to be an effective leader. My principals at Pasco High School in Pasco, WA, were essential to opening up my path into administration, not only by teaching me hard and soft leadership skills but by pushing me to take on leadership roles outside of my comfort zone. If I didn’t have these strong women and caring male leaders around me, it would have been an incredibly difficult journey.

These mentors recognized the unique challenges faced by women in leadership—from being the only woman in meetings to navigating sometimes subtle and indirect opposition. Yet, it’s essential to remember that we’re in these positions for a reason. Every experience, every struggle, and every triumph has shaped us. Our voice matters, and we should never discount our contributions.

Seeking out the partnership of other women leaders continues to be a source of inspiration in my career. I have found that my current role as a key planner in our community’s new school can be a particularly isolating experience. Both in meetings and around the construction site, I only encounter a handful of women. But in these male-dominated spaces, I have found strong allies among my female colleagues, enabling us to share our perspectives and inform decisions that will improve the lives of the families we plan to serve in our new school.

Balancing leadership roles with personal responsibilities, such as caretaking, requires planning and thoughtful decision-making. It’s a challenge familiar to many of us. Acknowledging the dual roles many women play, both as professionals and as primary caregivers, is vital.
Support systems, whether they be family, friends, or professional networks, are indispensable.

The efficacy of our leadership often hinges on the backing we receive from those above us. I am privileged to have an incredible superintendent who staunchly believes in my work. Despite her packed schedule and overseeing more than 25 schools, she never hesitates to support and advocate for me. True leadership and investment can make all the difference.

Moreover, my superintendent and other female supporters of my career, including an assistant superintendent and the executive director of secondary schools, have defied the misconception that women need to compete with each other to advance in their careers. Instead, they have shown me how we can uplift one another. I challenge women in school leadership to do this for female teachers who aspire to become school leaders. The essence of progress lies in leadership that believes in nurturing talent—spotting educators with exemplary instructional skills and facilitating their journey upwards.

Having women, and women from diverse backgrounds, in leadership roles is not just a nod to equality. It’s about representation, and as we all know representation matters. When students see someone like them in positions of power, it breaks down barriers and inspires them.

My Latina heritage and personal history of migrant farm work has enabled me to connect with students in similar circumstances. These students see what I’ve accomplished, I’m proof that they can reach their dreams, too.

Raquel Martinez is the president-elect of NASSP and the planning principal for Comprehensive High School #3, which will open in fall 2025 in Pasco, WA. Previously, she was the principal of Isaac Stevens Middle School.