Date of Graduation
Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
School of Education
Organization & Leadership EdD
The landscape of higher education is rife with crisis events, ranging from the global COVID-19 pandemic to natural disasters and institutional and industry-wide scandals; yet, most institutions of higher education are unprepared to tackle these crises as they arrive. As an industry, higher education is also largely dominated by men at its upper echelons, despite being a field that is predominantly staffed by women. Amidst the backdrop of the attention COVID-19 has brought to female world leaders and the quest for parity in higher education leadership positions, this study sought to explore the lived experiences of women leaders in higher education, with a particular emphasis on leadership experiences during times of crisis, and to illuminate the challenges women may face on the path to higher education leadership and the ways in which those challenges shape their leadership preparation and philosophies. This qualitative, feminist phenomenological study included eight women who had provided administrative leadership in a higher education setting during a crisis, all of whom participated in one semistructured interview between the months of February and March 2021. Data analysis revealed several findings as each research question was investigated. Themes such as (a) socialization as caretakers, (b) inclination toward collaboration and relationships, (c) silver linings, and (d) prior experiences offered insight into the ways women’s experiences shaped their responses to crisis. Additionally, themes including (a) the glass ceiling, (b) disconnection from authentic self, (c) discrimination, and (d) emotional and psychological toll revealed the ways women describe their encounters with patriarchy. Furthermore, themes including (a) preparedness, (b) crisis as opportunity, and (c) evolution of leadership identity gave insight into the ways participants’ crisis experiences affected their leadership philosophies. Finally, an exploration of the development of participants’ leadership identities and their relationships to feminism revealed themes such as (a) motherhood and work-life balance, (b) encounters with patriarchy, (c) critical feminism, (d) identification as a feminist, and (e) support of feminist values. Utilizing a critical feminist lens, this study revealed the ways in which women leaders bring their prior experiences and values to bear in their leadership practices during times of crisis as well as normalcy. This study also revealed the veritable minefields participants had to navigate during their pursuit of leadership, including diminishment of their accomplishments, harassment, and blatant acts discrimination. Recommendations are made for higher education institutions and leaders to facilitate a culture shift in academia, as well as areas for further research.
McVanner, I. H. (2021). Women Who Lead: A Feminist Phenomenology of Crisis Leadership in Higher Education. Retrieved from https://repository.usfca.edu/diss/588