Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Higher Ed/Community College Ed

Major Professor

Vonzell Agosto, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Tonisha Lane, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jolyn Blank, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Judith Ponticell, Ph.D.


Administration, Finance, Gender, Operations


Women earn degrees at a higher rate than men, yet they are underrepresented in leadership positions in general and more specifically, in executive leadership positions in the areas of finance, operations, and administration (FOA) in higher education. This qualitative study explored the journeys of women in executive leadership positions in finance, operations, and administration at four-year, public colleges or universities. The research question that guided this study was: How do women describe their experiences of securing, transitioning into, and advancing within executive leadership positions in FOA in higher education? Document and content analysis, demographic questionnaire, observations, interviews, and reflection were the methods used to collect data from six study participants. Narrative and thematic analysis were used in a case study format to generate the themes of the study. Using social cognitive theory as a conceptual framework, the themes were organized into three aspects of their journeys: 1) environmental elements, 2) behavioral elements, and 3) personal elements. In describing their journeys to executive leadership in higher education, the themes that emerged were: 1) career-related experience, 2) education, 3) relationships, 4) family and motherhood, 5) gender disparities, and 6) self-efficacy. A major finding was that women described their experiences of securing their executive leadership positions in FOA in higher education as a product of relationships with individuals in higher education prior to entering into higher education. It was also found that women described their experiences of transitioning into and advancing in leadership in terms of gaining career-related experiences, acquiring education, cultivating relationship, and using self-efficacy as contributors to their journeys in executive leadership in higher education.

Exploring the journeys of these women in executive leadership positions provided insight on entry points into higher education and how they advanced and sustained in higher education leadership. Although the women in this study did not have the same experiences or pathways to executive leadership positions, they successfully traversed to become executive leaders in higher education. Women are not abandoning their roles as caretakers of their families to get to executive leadership positions, but they are evolving into individuals who take care of their families while holding executive leadership positions. As such, this study has implications for training and education initiatives that create an interest in leadership in higher education and can lead to the establishment of a pipeline for women who aspire to become executive leaders in higher education.