While the literature concerning female administrators in higher education indicates the critical role that mentors and role models play in contributing to women’s professional advancement, the relationship between mentorship and women’s attainment of senior leadership positions including the college presidency remain underexplored. The purpose of this study was to explore how women in key-line administrative positions to the presidency (e.g., academic dean, vice president, chief academic officer) and women presidents understood the role of mentoring relationships and role models in their career paths to leadership. This study employed a postmodern feminist theoretical framework and a feminist qualitative design to give voice to the unique and individualized ways university women in key-line positions to the presidency and women presidents made meaning of the influence of mentors and role models during their careers. Data collection involved 16 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with a criterion-based sample of 12 female key-line administrators and four presidents employed at universities located in the southeastern United States. The data analysis revealed four main themes related to: (1) the minimal role of mentors and role models; (2) gender dynamics characterizing participants’ role models and mentoring relationships; (3) mentoring moments with multiple and non-traditional mentors and role models; and (4) the benefits of mentors and/or role models. This study recognizes the participants’ complexity in their multiple identities and demonstrates women’s resourcefulness in seeking career guidance and social support from multiple sources including male and female mentors, role models, colleagues, friends, and family members.


Mentoring, Gender, Leadership, Higher Education, Women’s Advancement, University Presidency, Feminist Qualitative Research

Author Bio(s)

Lilian H. Hill is professor and co/chair of the Department of Educational Research and Administration at The University of Southern Mississippi. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: lilian.hill@usm.edu.

Celeste A. Wheat is an assistant professor of student affairs in higher education at the University of West Alabama. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: cwheat@uwa.edu

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
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