This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Higher Education as a Gendered Organization: An Institutional Ethnography




Laminack Cash, Wendy

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Education Foundation, Leadership, and Technology

Restriction Status


Restriction Type


Date Available



Within higher education, women are employed more often within the ranks of staff or faculty rather than leadership positions, particularly senior leadership positions such as president, provost, or vice president. Only 22% of senior leadership positions are held by women (Silbert et al., 2022).). While many studies examine the challenges of women in higher education, there is a gap in research that identifies why these challenges are occurring and why women are being marginalized in these roles of authority. Therefore, to help close this research gap, the main exploration of this dissertation is to not only identify the work and challenges of women senior leaders in higher education from their standpoint but to also examine the coordination of their work, their challenges, and the institutional expectations that fall upon them through the lens of gendered organizations. Specifically, I examined the structures of the higher education institution to determine how gender and power informed the policies, discourses, procedures, challenges, and expectations women in leadership positions encountered within the institution. I began data collection with observations of each participant in their everyday place of work followed by semi-structured interviews that were conducted through Zoom or in the participant’s office. Throughout observations and interviews, I also collected data by identifying the institutional texts that coordinated the everyday work of women in leadership positions such as institutional handbooks and strategic plans. My approach to data analysis included low-level and high-level coding, discourse analysis, and code reorganization to create themes, which led to three key findings. First, my analysis of the data suggested that women in senior leadership roles had expectations and pressure to do more and be more than others (e.g., gendered expectations and discourses to always be present at work and in their office, always be available, and work constantly, even if on personal time, be nurturing and calming in times of change, and provide care for those in their institution). Furthermore, these expectations led to women in leadership being tired and exhausted, struggling to find and make time for mental health and self-care, and being lonely. Second, my analysis suggested that women in leadership positions were disrespected and disregarded as women of authority and experienced unfair and unequal treatment. Finally, my analysis suggested that gender, power, external governing bodies, and neoliberal discourse coordinated and informed the policies, practices, experiences, expectations, and challenges of these women in leadership. Overall, data analysis and findings indicated women in senior leadership experienced gendered expectations, challenges, practices, and discourses and that external governing bodies, which held authoritative power, and neoliberal discourses, coordinated the work of women in leadership and informed policies, procedures, and structures within the institution.