Date of Award

12-2014

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Andrea Beach

Second Advisor

Dr. Diane Anderson

Third Advisor

Dr. Erika Carr

Abstract

This study explored how feminist perspectives and generational differences influence the leadership practice of women administrators in higher education, specifically, how they lead and create institutional change. It examined the experiences of seven women who identified as feminists, who were part of Generation X, and who were at the mid-level, aspiring to senior-level, or in senior-level positions.

Phenomenology was the qualitative methodology used in this study to uncover how these women made meaning of their feminist and generational identities. The approach was grounded in feminist methodology and utilized feminist standpoint theory to legitimize women as “knowers.” It drew on a broad literature base that looked at women, leadership, and change in higher education; the influence of gender on leadership and organizations; the importance of intersectionality; feminism and feminist identity; and generational differences.

The participants in this study articulated a great deal of personal meaning for their feminist identity and little connection to their Generation X identity. Despite their proximity or distance to these identities, however, they demonstrated a variety of ways in which both frames influenced their leadership practice. Participants spoke extensively about their engagement with change efforts and named numerous personal, organizational, and cultural influences that shaped their experiences. Although most women didn’t name gender equity efforts among the most salient change projects they were involved in, they ultimately offered several examples of engagement in advocacy/activism.

The most notable finding was the emphasis that participants placed on other aspects of identity that shaped them, beyond feminism and Gen X membership. This emphasis calls into question the extent to which leadership studies inspire leaders to value intersectionality as a theoretical framework for understanding leaders and followers. If the influence of identities, within the interplay of systems in higher education, shapes the experience of empowerment and/or oppression, it seems that understanding this should be part of leadership competence. This intersectionality frame also has the potential for motivating continued social justice work in higher education.

Understanding this cohort of women provides valuable insights into the ways in which feminist perspectives and generational differences frame higher education leadership.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access