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Perceptions and Reactions to Career Barriers among Women in Executive Leadership Roles at Community Colleges

The purpose of this study was to examine the factors that cause women in community college executive leadership positions to detour from their original career plans. It looked at how women leaders in community colleges responded emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally to interruptions/barriers in their career paths toward community college leadership.

Phase I consisted of a series of telephone interviews with a sample of 22 women vice presidents and presidents purposefully selected from across the United States. The purpose of Phase I was to gather information about the women’s perceptions of events that caused them to either put their careers on hold or to forego advancement temporarily.

Phase II consisted of a survey based on the trends identified from the interviews. Eighty-five women in executive leadership positions at community colleges were asked to select responses that best described their personal experiences with career detours. The purpose of Phase II was to understand the roles that age, support groups, attitude, and personal inner strength played in surviving career detours for these women. A chi-square test was used on responses to pairs of questions to determine if the distribution of these paired responses could be explained by chance alone. To investigate the effect of age and experience on women’s perceptions regarding career detours, the response data were analyzed using a series of t-tests on the proportion of “yes” answers.

The findings from this research indicate that with the exception of needing an advanced degree to move ahead professionally, women leaders in community colleges faced many of the same career roadblocks and detours encountered by women in the corporate world. What distinguished women in community college leadership was their optimism that they would be successful even though it might take longer to reach their career goals than they originally planned. Their optimism was based on support from family and colleagues, emotional intelligence and endurance, experience and wisdom that come with age, the accepting environment of community colleges, and a resilient inner strength.