Publication Date

Spring 2016

Document Type

Project Summary

Degree Name

Doctor of Education



First Advisor

Lynette L. Danley, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Aurélio Manuel Valente, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Mary D. Bruce, Ph.D.


The higher education/student affairs administration field has a significant number of women graduating from programs across the country, however those numbers do not translate to the most executive levels, like vice president of student affairs, within this particular field. Many women are placed in entry level and mid-level positions without ever rising to the most senior positions, and others leave the higher education/student affairs administration field for part time work, to raise a family or to go into an entirely different field altogether. While there has been a lot of focus on the leaky pipeline of women in higher education and why women aren't ascending to those senior-level roles, the information is more limited when you look at women, and specifically those with children, who have aligned their professional goals and personal responsibilities from an asset building perspective. Working mothers who want to continue to move up in this field need to understand the factors of success that others have identified in order to have a road map of best practices that they can utilize themselves regardless of any maternal wall bias present. Maternal wall bias is a form of employment discrimination that can be both harmful to the individual experiencing it as well as the institution given high turnover rates of working mothers. While it is important to understand what may be causing this leaky pipeline of qualified women, it is equally as important to understand how the few working mothers who do rise to the Chief Student Affairs Officer (CSAO) role scale the maternal wall. For this research project, the construct of maternal wall bias in higher education is reviewed through three theoretical frameworks, Gilligan's theory of women's moral development, Holland's person-organization fit, and Goode's theory of role strain juxtaposed against Sieber's theory of role accumulation. In researching this topic through those theoretical frameworks, the literature was focused on several areas including motherhood ideologies, working mothers in higher education, resiliency and growth mindset, networking and mentoring of women, maternal wall bias, and transformational leadership styles. This literature helped inform the qualitative research in which five working mothers who have risen to the level of vice presidents of student affairs at public institutions were interviewed regarding how they scaled maternal wall bias on their continued promotion up the triangle of hierarchy to the most pinnacle position in a student affairs division. By identifying these factors, the researcher hopes to build a connection with other entry and mid-level student affairs professionals in higher education institutions regarding the realities of being a working mother and what individuals and the universities can do to better support their employees, specifically those with children. Additionally, this study will provide examples of working mothers who have negotiated their own pathways with a focus on asset building for those individuals who have scaled the maternal wall.