The Repository @ St. Cloud State

Open Access Knowledge and Scholarship

Date of Award


Culminating Project Type


Degree Name

Higher Education Administration: Ed.D.


Educational Administration and Higher Education


School of Education

First Advisor

Michael R. Mills

Second Advisor

Steven McCullar

Third Advisor

Kathryn Johnson

Fourth Advisor

Rachel Friedensen

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Keywords and Subject Headings

Women in leadership, barriers, protective and compensatory factors



The purpose of this study was to explore the experiences of women leaders in mid-level positions in academia, particularly academic deans in four-year public institutions in the Beta System. This study focused on the barriers, risk factors, and protective and compensatory factors shaping the leadership journey for the participants and while holding the current leadership position. The results of this study may provide higher education institutions in potential strategies and approaches to increase women’s representation in leadership positions and improve gender equity in leadership.

Women in leadership have been the focus of many research studies, which have identified some barriers women face to advance in their career. There have been a few studies about women in academic dean positions in community colleges, but not in four-year public institutions. This study affirmed some of the barriers and challenges reported by previous research studies, as well as identified barriers which turned to be subtle in nature and internalized by participants.

The participants in this study reported having experienced subtle barriers which were related to the way how higher education is structured, gender stereotypes and expectations, and internalized beliefs. While in the dean position, they perceived that the risk factors and challenges they experienced were not different than other deans in their institutions. Therefore, risk factors were distinguished from barriers in their career advancement since those risk factors were mostly related to the position rather than gender. In addition, the results of this study identified protective factors such as participants’ leadership skill set, familiarity with role’s responsibilities and expectations, and support systems which protected them from barriers they would have experienced otherwise. Among the most relevant compensatory factors, participants emphasized the significant impact of factors that promoted other protective factors, factors that kept them grounded in case of adversity, and means to reach a personal-work life balance.

This study is significant because it provides insights into the change in nature of the challenges and risks factors women still face in academia. It also provides women with potential strategies to maximize on their leadership potential while becoming aware of subtle barriers and working to minimize their (barriers’) effect on their advancement. Finally, this study helps institutions in their efforts to increase women’s representation in leadership as it indicates important factors at the institutional level that shape and promote women’s advancement.



I would like to acknowledge those who provided personal and professional support in my graduate studies and the dissertation journey. A heart-felt thank you and appreciation to:

  • The participants in this study in higher education institutions in the Beta System;
  • Dr. Michael Mills, Dr. Rachel Fredensen, Dr. Christine Imbra, Dr. Steven McCullar, and Dr. Kathryn Johnson;
  • Dr. Eralda Jesku-Rubel;
  • My parents, my spouse, and my sons.



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