Through the looking-glass ceiling: the advancement of women administrators and women faculty in an institution of higher education

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Beck, Alison Jean

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Historical patterns of gender discrimination in institutions of higher education have been well documented, including the structures and practices that reproduce sexism and inhibit change. Despite women having equity of access at the student and junior faculty levels of the university, there continues to be a dearth of women in tenured faculty and top administrative positions. The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe the experiences of, and the strategies used by, women faculty and women administrators when faced with resistant discourses of gender inequity in a research university. Using a phenomenological approach, selected women participated in focus groups and interviews giving rich descriptions of their lives in the academy. The findings of this study suggest that the women in administrative positions have more resources and stronger support networks than their faculty counterparts. The women faculty described experiences indicating they were more vulnerable to subtle sex discrimination practices than women administrators. However, the women exemplified a diversity of responses to gender inequity and their experiences suggest that the problem is more complex than the structural or temporal solutions currently provided. Recommendations to assist the advancement of women to senior positions in the university are discussed.