Academic journal article Advancing Women in Leadership

Motivational Factors Influencing Women's Decisions to Pursue Upper-Level Administrative Positions at Land Grant Institutions

Academic journal article Advancing Women in Leadership

Motivational Factors Influencing Women's Decisions to Pursue Upper-Level Administrative Positions at Land Grant Institutions

Article excerpt


Much of the research on women advancing in higher education has been focused on the external barriers and how to break down the barriers. This study acknowledged that external barriers existed, but determined that a new approach needed to be explored for implementing new initiatives geared toward advancing women to upper-level administrative positions (e.g., president, vice-president or provost). Using the elements of Bandura's Model of Reciprocal Determination, specifically self-efficacy, personal behavior, environment, and the interaction of all three, this qualitative study examined women in upper-level administrative positions and investigated what influential factors were responsible for motivating them to this achievement.


Over 160 years after the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. in 1848 (Osborn, 2001), women are still discussing, researching, and lobbying for many of the same issues and resolutions to problems laid out in the first meeting. The issues are equal opportunities for employment and equitable means to advance in one's career choice. Throughout history, women fought to improve their lives and the lives of women who came after them. As educators, women challenged the comforts of familiarity to reach new understandings. Unfortunately, it takes time to change long held beliefs and values regarding the role of women in society. Fueled by the women's movement, affirmative action, feminists, and women's strong work ethic and abilities, women have made great strides in becoming more visible within the workforce and in greater numbers at colleges and universities.

Wenniger and Conroy (2001) concluded that women were more likely to head smaller schools or lead community colleges, which traditionally emphasize teaching over research. As of 2006, the same conclusion exists with only 13.8% of the doctoral institutions were led by women. Conversely, the largest percentage of women presidents (28.8%) led community colleges with 23.2% of the women overseeing baccalaureate schools (Jaschik, 2010).

Similar trends have occurred for the second in command or the chief academic officer at most institutions. In 2009, American Council for Education (ACE) published the first national census of Chief Academic Officers (CAOs) in the United States. The census revealed the lowest percentage of women CAO's employed at doctorate-granting institutions (32%) compared to 50% of the women CAOs at associate's colleges; 38% at master's institutions; 37% at baccalaureate institutions; and 33% at special focus institutions (American Council for Education, 2009).

Despite the fact that the percentage of women presidents had more than doubled what it was 20 years ago from 9.5% in 1986 to 23.0% in 2006, the most significant change took place between 1986 and 1998 with only 1.9% of the rise being between 2001 and 2006. Furthermore, this relatively small percentage of college presidencies stands out because less than half of the CAO's are women (40%) and the CAO is the senior academic rank from which presidents tend to be selected. Thus, the proportion of women at these senior academic ranks shows that women remain underrepresented as presidents (Jaschik, 2010).

In contrast to the top two upper-level positions, the number of women in the administrative branch (includes executives, directors, and managers) at four-year public institutions increased 57.8% from 1997 to 2007. The number of men during this same time period only increased 12.3% (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). As of 2007, the proportion of women in the administrative branch is almost 50%. However, the administrative branch is a very broad category and includes many middle management positions in which women may or may not have upper-level decision making authority.

These data support the premise that women made progress and achieved many of the goals established by the first adopters of the women's movement. …

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