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How did they get there? The career development of senior women academic officers in New England community colleges

Darlene Gail Miller, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Few studies exist dealing with the career development of women to senior academic officers positions in higher education. As more women pursue these senior level administrative careers, there arises a need to better understand how they develop them. What is this phenomenon of career development? How do women develop careers in hierarchical organizations? How do traditional gender-roles influence career choice? The review of the literature comprises three sections: an exploration of the literature on the organizational structure of higher education and the career paths taken to senior academic administrative positions; an examination of the career development literature; and a review of the literature on the influence of role models and mentors on occupational choice. The methodology for this study was Naturalistic Inquiry. In Naturalistic Inquiry, a priori theory is used as guiding theory to help the researcher generate questions and search for patterns. To gain an understanding of the career development of the women chosen for this study, research questions focused on above questions. Six women participated in in-depth interviews. The analyses and synthesis of the data into assertions is presented in case studies. Many common themes as well as differences emerged from the data. These women labored to gain a depth of knowledge and breadth of experience in higher education administration. Much of their inclination to hard work was grounded in their desire to serve; they are committed to community college education. The dominant culture which places women in the private domain and men in the public domain significantly influenced the career lives of some of these women. Mentors were key to helping these achievers gain self-confidence and choose a path up the academic administrative career ladder. Finding the right fit, and positioning oneself were instrumental to developing a career in a hierarchical institution. Finally, obtaining the doctorate, while simultaneously growing intellectually and professionally, was also key to success. This study increases our knowledge on women's career development in the community colleges. Not every woman who pursues a career as a senior academic officer will act as these women. However, what we have learned can be applied to similar contexts.

Subject Area

Higher education|Community colleges|School administration|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Miller, Darlene Gail, "How did they get there? The career development of senior women academic officers in New England community colleges" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9619413.