Date of Award

Fall 12-15-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education & Educational Psychology

First Advisor

Catherine O’Callaghan, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Marcia A. B. Delcourt, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Marlene Zakierski, Ph.D.


The purpose of this study was to explore the social construction of female leadership identities from the perspectives of women serving at the highest level of positional authority within the hierarchy of their organizations across different professions. Specifically, the researcher explored the perceptions of five females through their self-reported lived experiences of the factors that have supported and challenged them in forging leadership identities consistent with their core values and beliefs. The five female participants were from these diverse professional contexts in the private and public sectors: (a) University President of a co-educational, four-year, higher education institution, (b) College President of a co-educational, two-year, higher education institution, (c) CEO of a hospital or healthcare organization, (d) Superintendent of a K-12 public school district, and (e) Chief of Police of a municipal law enforcement agency. This study differs from others that explore the intersection between gender and leadership because of this broadened sample that included a variety of professions. Purposeful and convenience sampling procedures were utilized, together with pre-defined selection criteria, to assist in identifying participants who had experienced the phenomena being studied. Data collection tools included semi-structured interviews, field observations, and document review protocols. Data were analyzed and resulted in two findings and four themes. Finding 1 emerged as follows: Participants described their leadership identities in terms of their successes or challenges in enacting a communal orientation through which they build and maintain relationships that they perceive as critical to their ability to fulfill their purpose or calling, move the organization or community forward, navigate difficult circumstances, evaluate their effectiveness as leaders, and improve leadership capacity of themselves or others. Finding 2 developed as follows: Participants described their leadership identity as a complex blend of agency and communion which moderates their approach in making decisions, holding staff accountable, confronting barriers, expressing directives and hard truths, maintaining appropriate distance or boundaries, exercising power, and sharing credit with others in a manner which enables leaders to accomplish the greater good that is linked to mission, purpose, and objectives.