Women's career development: The lived experience of Canadian university women presidents

Tuesday, 19 November 2013: 8:50 AM

Colleen M. Quinlan, PhD, WHCNP
College of Nursing, University of Toledo, Toledo, OH

Learning Objective 1: Describe the career paths of Canadian university women presidents.

Learning Objective 2: Identify the critical influences along the career paths of Canadian university women presidents


 As of July 2011, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) reported women led 17 of its 95 member institutions.  While this represents considerable change since 1974 when Pauline Jewett became the first woman to lead a co-educational Canadian university, progress for women climbing the educational leadership ladder to the office of the university president in Canada has been slow.  The purpose of this study was to describe the lived experiences of Canadian university women presidents as they developed their careers.  Using a phenomenological research approach, individual, in-depth, interviews were conducted with eight women university presidents to investigate perceptions and experiences related to personal and professional opportunities and barriers along their career paths.  Powell and Mainiero’s (1992) career development conceptual framework was adapted to explain how work and non-work issues, subjective measures of success, and the impact of personal, organizational, and societal factors affect women’s career decisions.  Results showed each of the women journeyed through a unique pathway to the presidency, yet their stories shared common themes.  Personal characteristics, family background, educational experiences, and mentoring relationships were identified as critical influences on their career development experiences.  Challenges stemmed from the struggle to balance career goals with caring responsibilities, cope with the inherent difficulties of the role of a university president, and navigate gender issues.  This study is part of a growing body of research on the career experiences of women academic leaders.  Inherent in the research findings are recommendations for individuals and institutions to guide and inform organizational policies and practices related to removing the cultural and structural barriers that impede women’s career advancement.