Date of Award

Spring 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Higher Education Leadership, Management, Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Katie Smith, PhD

Committee Member

Mary Meehan, PhD

Committee Member

Manuel Gonzalez, PhD


Catholic, higher education, women, president, gendered organizations, leadership


Women are underrepresented in executive leadership positions across different industries, including higher education. The literature suggests that there are many gender-based barriers making it difficult for women to achieve executive-level leadership within higher education. Further, gendered organizations that promote the authority of one gender over another present additional barriers for women to access leadership roles. Catholic organizations are inherently gendered organizations given the Church’s exclusive male leadership. This creates a “stained glass ceiling” making it difficult and, in some cases, impossible for women to rise to the top of Catholic higher education leadership. This interpretive phenomenological study explores the experiences of 16 current and former women presidents of Catholic colleges and universities. Using Acker’s (1990) theory of gendered organizations and the Women’s Leadership Development Model, an emerging theory from Dahlvig and Longman (2014), as a theoretical framework, the participants were interviewed regarding their path to the presidency and their experiences within the role. Findings suggest that women presidents of Catholic institutions face barriers rooted in cultural and social gender norms that reflect the five processes of a gendered organization. The findings also suggest that mentorship, professional development, and a personal alignment with the institutional mission are critical for women to be motivated to pursue the presidency and succeed within the role.