Women's Leadership Aspirations and Career Paths in Higher Education: Influence of Personal Factors

Women's Leadership Aspirations and Career Paths in Higher Education: Influence of Personal Factors

Lilian H. Hill (The University of Southern Mississippi, USA), Celeste A. Wheat (The University of West Alabama, USA), Tanyaradzwa C. Mandishona (University of Southern Mississippi, USA) and Andrea E. Blake (University of Southern Mississippi, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7056-1.ch011

Abstract

The purpose of this chapter is to provide insight into the ways in which personal life roles such as mother, daughter, and/or spouse/partner influence the leadership aspirations of women holding senior university administrative positions (e.g., academic dean, vice president, provost). The chapter is informed by a postmodern feminist perspective and reviews literature related to pathways to the presidency, family considerations, gender roles, and geographic mobility. Findings from the literature are integrated with those of the dissertation of the second author. In keeping with a postmodern feminist perspective, the chapter concludes with recommendations for change in recruiting diverse women for higher education leadership.
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Introduction

The purpose of this chapter is to provide insight into the ways in which personal life roles such as mother, daughter, and/or spouse/partner influence the leadership aspirations of women holding senior, or key-line, university administrative positions (e.g., academic dean, vice president, provost) in the career path to the presidency and female university presidents. Because higher education institutions, like many workplaces, tend to reify traditional gender expectations in ways that present subtle and unspoken barriers for women aspiring to leadership (Acker, 2006), this chapter explores how women make sense of and cope with the contradictory demands of work and their personal lives. The chapter begins with a brief background, presents a postmodern feminist theoretical framework, and reviews findings drawn from the literature and the second author’s dissertation (Wheat, 2012). In keeping with a postmodern feminist perspective, the chapter concludes with recommendations for change.

Background

Scholars have addressed how motherhood and family relationships influence the career paths of female faculty in academia (Mason, Wolfinger & Goulden, 2013). However, the influence of university women leaders’ family relationships on their career choices has been understudied and even fewer studies have addressed the influence of women’s spouses/partners (Madsen, 2008; Marshall, 2009; Steinke, 2006; Switzer, 2006). There is a particular need for research that examines how personal life factors (e.g., child-rearing, spousal/partner relationships or single status, caring for elderly parents, etc.) influences female administrators’ career paths and presidential aspirations (Bornstein, 2008; Madsen, 2008; Marshall, 2009; Steinke, 2006; Woollen, 2016). There is also a need for studies that seek to understand how gender intersects with the multiple dimensions of women leaders’ personhood such as family status, marital status, age, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation to inform women’s career path experiences and leadership aspirations (Blackmore, 1999; Bornstein, 2008; Chliwniak, 1997; Jean-Marie, 2010; Turner, 2008). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals are likely to be present in leadership positions, but may not choose to reveal their status due to “fear, perceived irrelevance, hostile work climates, antigay policies, or the leader’s own identity development” (Fassinger, Shullman, & Stevenson, 2016, p. 202).

Work-life balance issues and their influence on women leaders’ careers in higher education have been widely addressed in the research literature (Astin & Leland, 1991; Bornstein, 2008; Chliwniak, 1997; Cox, 2008; Eddy, 2009; Kuk & Donovan, 2004; Madsen, 2008; Marshall, 2009; Steinke, 2006; Switzer, 2006; Warner & DeFleur, 1993). Another consistent theme that has been addressed relates to the role of family relationships on women leaders’ career paths (Eddy, 2009; Kuk & Donovan, 2004; Madsen, 2008; Marshall, 2009; Steinke, 2006; Switzer, 2006). Other scholars have examined the influence of parenting young and/or school-age children for female faculty (Cook, 2014; Evans & Grant, 2008; Ghodsee & Connelly, 2011; Mason & Goulden, 2002; Mason, Wolfinger, & Goulden, 2013; Ward & Wolf-Wendel, 2012; Young, 2015). Nevertheless, few scholars have examined the influence of having young and/or school-age children and the role of spouses/partners on women senior administrators’ and presidents’ career paths. Likewise, scholarship relating higher education leadership to LGBT identity is virtually nonexistent (Fassinger, Shullman, & Stevenson, 2016).

In order to better ascertain the factors which may serve to motivate or hinder women in advancing to the presidency, scholars point to the need for more empirical research relating to women administrators’ and presidents’ career paths and leadership aspirations (Birnbaum & Umbach, 2001; Bornstein, 2008; Madsen, 2008; Marshall, 2009; Nidiffer, 2001). In particular, there is a gap in the empirical literature in higher education pertaining to the factors which influence the career paths and leadership aspirations of female key-line, administrators (e.g., academic dean, vice president, chief academic officer) and women presidents in university settings (Birnbaum & Umbach, 2001; King & Gomez, 2008; Madsen, 2008; Walton & McDade, 2001). Additionally, there is a gap in the literature regarding the career paths of women who are African-Americans, Latinas, Asian-Americans, LGBT, and members of other underrepresented groups (Oikelome, 2017).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Women’s Leadership: Women’s ability to assume leadership roles in higher education settings.

Postmodern Feminist Theory: Rooted in postmodernism, postmodern feminism is a theoretical perspective that questions prescribed gender roles emanating from modernism. It promotes multiple truths and provides opportunities for all people to contribute.

Higher Education: The study of postsecondary education.

Work-Life Balance: The ability to balance, and appropriately prioritize, the responsibilities of both work and home life.

Geographic Mobility: A person’s ability to move to a new city for purposes of career advancement.

Family Responsibilities: The role of family relationships and responsibilities related to women leaders’ career paths.

Pathways to the Presidency: Career paths that prepare an individual to assume a university presidency; often this includes first serving as a dean, provost, or vice-president.

Gender Roles: Social roles that prescribe a range of behaviors and attitudes that are considered appropriate to a person’s perceived gender.

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