Date of Award

Summer 8-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership

First Advisor

Richard Shrubb


Women are underrepresented in leadership (Bichsel & McChesney, 2017; Catalyst, 2018; Cook, 1997; Mesch & Rooney, 2008; United States Senate, n.d.a, n.d.b; United States House of Representatives, 2020a; United States House of Representatives, 2020b). Exploring the underrepresentation of women in higher educational leadership could offer insight that could be used to create opportunities to advance women in order to fill the gender gap. Much is known about the proverbial Glass Ceiling (Bichsel & McChesney, 2017; Catalyst, 2018; Cook, 1997; Mesch & Rooney, 2008) and the Glass Escalator (Malin & Wise, 2018; Maume, 1999; Williams, 1992). However, the challenges related to limitations that women put on themselves and each other, a phenomenon called the Sisterhood Ceiling (Bingham, 2016), has yet to be explored in the literature.

A qualitative case study on the differentiating and shared experiences of men and women in leadership positions as well as their perceptions of female leaders in one university system was used to explore this phenomenon. One university system, referenced as ABC University System throughout this dissertation, located in the southern region of the United States is comprised of multiple four-year public universities. Women represent the majority of students, faculty, and staff for the university system; yet they only represent 29% of the leadership. Men make-up 100% of the university presidents; therefore, the leadership is not reflective of the organization as a whole. This system was chosen for this qualitative case study due to the gender gap in leadership.

Data were collected from face-to-face audio recorded participant interviews, documented observations, and the collection of artifacts. Additionally, the theoretical framework was Social Role Theory, which served as a lens for the research questions. The evidence that emerged from the data were triangulated and analyzed. The findings demonstrated instances of gender leadership differentiations, perceptions of female leaders, and the perceived symptoms of the Sisterhood Ceiling.