Department of Educational Administration


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A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Major: Educational Studies, Under the Supervision of Professor Marilyn L. Grady. Lincoln, Nebraska: August, 2008

Copyright (c) 2008 Virginia Russell Curley


The lived experience of women and men in terms of how they perceived power within their predominantly-female organization was the focus of this qualitative study. The case study explored the multi-dimensional reality of power as individuals in the same organization experienced it.

The research question that guided the study was: How do men and women in a predominantly-female organization describe their perceptions of power? Other research questions included how power was defined and described by individuals when their gender was dominant or in the minority.

The case study methodology included interviews with 25 faculty, staff and administrators at a Midwestern college focused on the education of women. The core findings of the study were analyzed based on the Interactional Framework of Leadership Development that considers the relationship between the leader, the followers, and the situation when assessing how leadership and power are exercised (Hughes, Ginnett & Curphy, 2006).

The primary themes revealed that 1) the mission of the institution to educate women played a significant role in participants‘ descriptions of a communal form of power; 2) gender was perceived in three distinct ways; 3) the female president‘s exercise of power contradicted the perception of communal leadership; and 4) the president‘s agentic style was the determining factor in how power was experienced.

Gender was described by participants as 1) not a factor in decision-making; 2) a factor that may have been attributed to the individual‘s personality rather than gender; or 3) a determining factor that distinguished men‘s and women‘s leadership. In the final case, women attributed positive, communal characteristics to female leadership and hierarchical, agentic characteristics to male leadership.

Adviser: Marilyn L. Grady