Date of Award

Spring 6-2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)



First Advisor

Rich Whitney, Ph.D

Second Advisor

Karen Monkman, Ph.D

Third Advisor

Peggy Burke, Ph.D


The history of women in higher education reflects a constant battle for access and equity. Although the number of post-secondary institutions steadily increased after Harvard University opened its doors in 1636, almost two hundred years would pass before women students were allowed at some institutions. In the last 50 years, the number of women graduating from four-year institutions has dramatically increased. The same delayed access for women students to gain admittance mirrors the challenges that women faculty and staff have seen in obtaining leadership roles within higher education. Despite enrollment numbers that indicate women students are enrolling and graduating at faster rates than their male counterparts, very few women attain the highest level of leadership within a university. Several reasons for this lack of representation include historical inequalities,stereotypical notions about women's leadership styles, the presence of a chilly climate on college campuses, and the male-dominated history of academia, which can impact the speed of advancement and professional options for women.

This is a narrative inquiry study that examines the role of gender and meaning-making and how it impacts the career trajectory for women in leadership within higher education, specifically at the level of the university presidency in the United States. The author conducted 10 interviews with current women presidents at institutions of higher education across the United States. The emergent themes from the study indicate that gender does influence how these women leaders make meaning of their professional experience. The study suggests that these women have employed a series of strategies to help them navigate some of the challenges they have encountered on their professional journeys. This research provides an in-depth look at how women leaders in academia experience their professional journeys and provides lessons and strategies for women who aspire to the presidency.

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