Date of Award

Fall 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Policy and Leadership

First Advisor

Jessup-Anger, Jody

Second Advisor

Beckman, Ellen

Third Advisor

Barren, Jill


Previous research indicated that women’s advancement into the leadership and administrative ranks in higher education has stalled over the past twenty years. Studies highlighted the socio-cultural and structural barriers that create challenges for women’s advancement in the academy. This study focused on the use of women-only leadership development programs (WLDPs) as a potential resource for women in the pursuit of advancing their careers. Few research studies to date assess the outcome for women who have attended WLDPs. This study was an in-depth case study of the Women in Higher Education Leadership Summit (WHELS) held at the University of San Diego, School of Leadership and Education Studies. Using a sequential transformative mixed methods design, 95 WHELS alumnae were contacted to answer the research question “How do women from various social locations understand the influence of WHELS on their career plan/trajectory?” Using a quantitative survey (37% response rate), followed by qualitative interviews, five main hypotheses were tested to determine if WHELS alumnae reported improved leadership identity, improved leadership ability, improved understanding of effective leadership styles, whether they had advanced in their career, and if alumnae attributed WHELS to their advancement. Based upon the findings all five hypotheses were supported by the quantitative data. Qualitative data also supported the quantitative findings, but it provided clarification into how women experienced WHELS. The qualitative findings revealed that women reported benefitting from attending WHELS, it confirmed the leadership ability and style the women already possessed. WHELS built women’s self-awareness and self-confidence, allowing women to adopt a leadership identity. Women benefitted from this leadership identity as it built their self-efficacy and agency. This study confirmed that women do face socio-cultural and structural barriers in institutions of higher education, which create barriers to their advancement into leadership roles. However, through the completion of WHELS, the participants of this study built self-confidence in their leadership abilities, adopting a leadership identity. Through this process the women in this study returned to their institutions with self-efficacy and agency. The study concludes with a discussion of the findings, limitations, recommended future research, and implications for action.