Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Sue Poppink

Second Advisor

Dr. Wanda Hadley

Third Advisor

Dr. Nancy Mansberger


Women in higher education, female deans, supports and challenges, deanship in Saudi Arabia, academic leadership, attaining the leadership positions


Saudi Arabian women are underrepresented in higher education leadership positions. To take advantage of opportunities and have lasting effects on future generations of women, women must learn to attain leadership positions such as academic deanships. Deans are in a uniquely influential position as they engage in many significant aspects of educational leadership, such as academics, operations, and administrative aspects of colleges and universities.

The purpose of this qualitative study is to understand the lived experiences of female deans to understand the specific supports and challenges they faced in attaining their leadership positions. These challenges and supports are embedded in the unique structural, cultural, and familial aspects of Saudi Arabia and its higher education system. This study helps to highlight what types of supports and challenges may lead to more females attaining the deanship. The research question guiding this study was: How do Saudi Arabian female deans experience attaining their leadership role?

This study was unique in that I interviewed women working in the position of the deanship, while other studies have examined different facets of general leadership. Specific structural, cultural, and familial aspects of higher education and how they are significant for female leaders to attain the deanship have been largely underrepresented in academic studies.

I used a phenomenological approach to study ten female deans, and I interviewed them using open-ended questions from five regions in Saudi Arabia.

Through the data analysis process, I developed nine significant themes: (a) path to the deanship; (b) structural supports; (c) structural challenges; (d) cultural supports; (e) cultural challenges; (f) family supports; (g) family challenges; (h) other challenges; (i) other supports. Under the theme of the path to the deanship, I found that female deans believe having significant academic and administrative leadership experiences, serving on service committees, and working on academic accreditation increases their chances of becoming a dean. Under the theme of structural challenges, I found that they faced unique barriers, including the criteria for selection, centralization, and lack of authority for decision making. Under the theme of structural supports, the women deans received external and internal leadership training prepared by their universities or the Ministry of Education that allowed them to engage with leaders of different levels at various universities, and who demonstrated various leadership styles. Other structural supports included the advantages of all-women colleges and universities. Another structural supports is succession training. Under the theme of culture supports, deans described a variety of supports, including the absence of a gender wage gap. Other findings under the theme of other supports, included (a) the Saudi’s new Vision 2030 governmental policy for women’s empowerment, and (b) personal characteristics and experiences. Characteristics included the ability to mingle and work with others. Experiences included excellent relationships and active mentoring. There are more challenges and supports identified in this study that could guide policymakers in supporting female deans.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access