Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Susan Boser, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Kathryn Bonach, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Dana Hysock Witham, Ph.D.


Despite the fact that women now earn more bachelor's, master's and doctorates than men, a gender gap for women leaders persists in the field of higher education. Women hold only 26 percent of all college and university presidencies with a large variance by type of institution. Women lead 33 percent of associate's level institutions but only 22 percent of doctorate-granting institutions. Extensive research has demonstrated that women aspiring to and serving as leaders face many barriers. The objective of this study was to discover the meaning of adversity in the lives of women leaders in higher education by documenting accounts of women who have navigated through obstacles, barriers and adversities. This study used qualitative research to understand the meanings which participants gave to their experiences with adversity. Twenty-six women holding senior leadership positions in higher education participated in this study. In-depth interviews were conducted to allow participants to recall their experiences with adversity and to reflect on the meanings of these experiences.