Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Higher Education Administration

Major Professor

Dorian L. McCoy

Committee Members

Norma T. Mertz, Karen D. Boyd, Michael Lane Morris


Business schools have a responsibility to set a good example by ensuring diversity in their leadership positions (Council of Economic Advisors, 2015). Despite this, the top leadership position within these schools is still overwhelmingly held by men; women occupy 22.9% of deanships at U.S., AACSB-accredited, four-year colleges of business. This underrepresentation is problematic, in that it results in the waste of administrative talent at a time when higher education and colleges of business face serious challenges that will be met only with diversity of thought and experience; and strong, effective leadership (Dunn et al., 2014; Lennon, 2013; O’Connor, 2015; Peterson, 2014; Spender, 2016). The purpose of this qualitative, phenomenological study was to explore the academic leadership journeys of women business deans. In particular, this study sought to develop a more enhanced understanding of the common experiences that prepared women to become business deans and influenced role attainment. To capture the essence of their academic leadership journey experiences, in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with nine women business deans leading at U.S., AACSB-accredited, doctoral-granting, four-year colleges of business. Data analysis resulted in five overarching themes and 14 sub-themes. Findings indicated that although the initial path to academic leadership was incidental and non-aspirational, with the recognition and encouragement of others, participants assumed academic leadership roles and their career goals became more intentional. Because little formal preparation for the deanship exists, they took a self-directed approach to training and development and relied most on previous experience to prepare for the role. Despite certain sacrifices and demands, the deanship has been a rewarding position in which they could have a broader influence. The findings expand current understandings of how women business deans prepare for and attain their roles. Implications suggest the importance of business school administrators and organizations to increase awareness of the opportunities and advantages of academic leadership roles early in female faculty careers and support women through the tenure and promotion timeline. In addition, leadership development specifically geared towards this subset of women is recommended to prepare them to successfully pursue, attain, and perform academic leadership roles, including the business deanship.

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