Structure, culture, and nurture in women’s academic leadership.

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This qualitative study investigated what role structure, culture, and nurture play in women’s experiences in academic leadership. From personal interviews with 41 women in senior-level roles across Birnbaum’s four institutional types (collegial, bureaucratic, political, and anarchical), I discovered common sequencing patterns, deviation from institutional norms, and several functions of mentorship. Using the three strands of structure, culture, and nurture, I gained insight and understanding of women serving in senior levels of higher education. This deeper look at the experiences of women academic leaders in sequencing work and family life reminds the reader that the work of creating supportive organizational structures for women is not finished. Cultural expectations for the role of women lag behind current rates of participation, and women deviate from the institutional culture through their very presence as well as by their leadership styles. Nurture is the most variable of the three strands, evidenced by the broad range of experiences. The value of having mentors is expanded by this fresh understanding of mentors as processors, encouragers, and sponsors. Finally, three archetypes of women academic leaders emerged: passers, pushers, and peacekeepers. Passers, drawing on racial passing theory and stigma, are women leaders who take on stereotypically male characteristics or behaviors to fit in among male leaders. Pushers, based on organizational change theory, are change agents who propel their institutions toward gender equity. Peacekeepers, rooted in political science theory on diplomats, are women who led relationally and collaboratively.

Women. Leadership. Higher education. Administration. Positive deviance. Sequencing theory. Sponsorship. Mentorship.