Date of Award

Summer 2021

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Leadership and Policies

First Advisor

Christina Yao


Extensive research has demonstrated that leaders aspiring to become women college presidents encounter many barriers, including gender-based leadership barriers. In higher education, women hold more degrees than men; however, women account for only 30 percent of all college and university presidencies. As the total number of women earning doctoral degrees and hired into faculty positions within the academy increases, the overall gap of the genders begins to narrow (Flaherty, 2016), and women are hired into lower status instructor positions compared to their male counterparts who are in tenured or tenure track position.

Even in presidential positions, women leaders face challenges within institutional structures, practices, and mindsets that require transformative change. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the lived experiences of five women presidents in higher education who navigated gendered institutions to achieve their presidency roles. The five presidents were from different institution-types, located in distinct regions of the United States, representing diverse races and ages.

Indeed, as more women enter the academy, more knowledge must be gathered. This study aimed to contribute to a deeper understanding of the experiences and strategies the women presidents implemented as they navigated gendered higher education institutions. The reader also learned the self-efficacy strategies the women college presidents applied to assist them in their rise through the ranks to become president. Specifically, the attributes, professional advancement goals and activities, vi opportunities, and behaviors that had implications for their career to progress to the position of president within the higher education academy. Finally, the study provided an understanding of the challenges these women presidents had to overcome to achieve their positions.

The conceptual theories used to frame this study are Bandura's (1977) self-efficacy theory and the feminist theory of patriarchy. Paramount to this narrative inquiry is the juxtaposition of the individual woman president's journey as she navigated the inherent bias, illustrated by self-efficacy theory, within a gendered organization, which was demonstrated through the theory of patriarchy. This study links theory, research, and practice of women college presidents and suggests future leadership development strategies. These strategies include exposing aspiring women leaders to leadership opportunities, supporting the women as they ascend through the leadership pipeline, and fostering the leadership skills needed to oversee a higher education institution.


© 2021, Mary Alexander