Educational Administration, Department of


Date of this Version


Document Type



Journal of Women in Educational Leadership, 2021

doi: 10.32873/unl.dc.jwel.202


Copyright © 2021 Hardy, Williams, Bullington, & Commodore.


Community college presidents are currently retiring at rapid rates, and this turnover in leadership is expected to continue. As these important post-secondary institutions face the loss of senior-level leaders, women in mid-career positions are preparing to fill the gap in the leadership pipeline. Although previous studies have examined the leadership challenges faced by women leaders, the focus has been on presidents and vice presidents. This study fills a gap in the literature by examining the leadership experiences of women in mid-level positions - specifically deans and directors - and to identify their unique employment mobility challenges.

The purpose of this qualitative, phenomenological study was to examine women leaders in mid-level positions and their perceptions of the personal, professional, and organizational challenges unique to them as leaders in urban community colleges. This study provides community college leaders and practitioners a better understanding of the importance of more effective navigational tools, better leadership training and development, and inclusive and intentional leadership funnels and hiring practices for women mid-level leaders. Ten participants from three community colleges discussed perceived challenges through in-depth, semi-structured interviews, and they described how they have attempted to navigate these challenges.

Five major themes were identified: (a) leadership progression, (b) work-life balance, (c) mentorship and professional development, (d) communication, and (e) institutional climate and organizational structure. Recommendations for leaders include: providing opportunities and support for mentorship for women in mid-career positions; creating and funding professional development opportunities; and assisting women leaders with doctoral degree completion.