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Breaking the Glass Ceiling? Gender and Leadership in Higher Education

Global Education Colloquium

May 19, 2015
Barret Katuna, Ph.D., University of Connecticut

While gender research shows that women face exceptional disadvantages in the workplace based on sexual harassment, glass ceilings, mentoring and collegial work relationships and the work and family balance, it does not specifically focus on redefining leadership roles so as to uncover a degendered vision of leadership. Feminist degendering movement literature that encompasses degendering leadership, engendering leadership or taking gender out of the way that we define leadership recognizes the problems associated with role congruity and women’s subsequent leadership potential.  In my dissertation, I consider the possibility of a degendered leadership that does not pose gendered limitations for how women or men ought to act in leadership roles.  My research questions include: 1) What role does gender play in the narratives of women and men leaders? 2) How might leaders’ gendering of leadership reproduce gender stereotypes? 3) What strategies might leaders and institutions of higher education use to degender leadership? and 4) What might degendered leadership look like? Through 34 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with women and men who are serving as deans, provosts, and presidents at colleges and universities throughout the United States, I examine degendered definitions of leadership that are rooted in expectations of the prototypical academic leader. Respondents indicated that effective academic leadership is evident through a leader’s prestige through her or his credentials and publications, active engagement with institutional stakeholders and ability to lead strategic institutional initiatives that are in line with the institutional culture. While past scholarship has emphasized the negative effects associated with gendering leadership and an individual’s behavioral capacity to lead, there is a need for more scholarship that focuses on degendering leadership through labeling and discourse. Through the narratives of my respondents, who are some of the most esteemed leaders in higher education in the United States, I fill this gap in the literature.

About the Speaker

Barret Katuna is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Connecticut. Her research explores gender and leadership in higher education and gender and human rights issues. Her work has appeared in Societies Without Borders, Disrupting the Culture of Silence: Confronting Gender Inequality and Making Change in Higher Education (forthcoming in October 2014) edited by Kris De Welde and Andi Stepnick, and In Our Own Backyard: Human Rights, Injustice, and Resistance in the United States (University of Pennsylvania 2011), edited by William T. Armaline, Davita Silfen Glasberg, and Bandana Purkayastha.