Leading in Gendered Spaces: Women Presidents' Perceptions of Their Experiences in Community Colleges

Keri Moe, University of Texas at El Paso


Gender inequality in leadership is an ongoing challenge found in higher education, including community colleges. Since women remain underrepresented in leadership positions at community colleges, specifically as college presidents, the purpose of this study was to document and better understand the experiences of women in these roles by focusing on three research questions: • RQ 1: How do women presidents describe their experience in male-dominated community colleges? • RQ 2: How do gender identity and gender expectations of women impact the behavior of women community college presidents? • RQ 3: How do women presidents navigate their role within male-dominated community colleges? Through the lens of post-structural feminism, this research provides insight about how women experience their roles as leaders in the gendered environment of male-dominated community colleges and the strategies they use to navigate and be successful in their roles. Knowing how women community college presidents attribute meaning to their experience, construct identity, and successfully lead within a male-dominated community college context adds to understanding about this phenomenon and could reduce the gender gaps that exist, inform policy and practice, as well as give insight to career pathways for women leaders of the future. This qualitative research showed that as more women become community college presidents, authenticating their leadership is critical and has valuable outcomes for the institutions they serve. The fact that women community college presidents lead from a position of otherness informs their actions, behavior, and how they must maneuver to successfully navigate this male-dominated environment. This study demonstrated that women community college presidents are not only finding ways to navigate the male-dominated system, but they are also trying to embrace the authenticity of their leadership. The findings also show that although women community college presidents want to be viewed as competent leaders and resist being labeled by gender, they often reinforce a view of gender that is very essentialized. While they reject some of the discourses and create their own experiences, they are unintentionally reproducing inherent discourses of gender oppression.

Subject Area

Community college education|Higher Education Administration|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Moe, Keri, "Leading in Gendered Spaces: Women Presidents' Perceptions of Their Experiences in Community Colleges" (2021). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI28865154.