As women advance into leadership roles in America, there is a demand for career development research to deepen understanding of strategies for overcoming obstacles and maximizing opportunities. This study investigated 13.4% of the population of female Deans of AACSB-accredited business schools in America through qualitative inquiry. During this study, 157 of 540 American business schools with AACSB accreditation were led by female Deans. A female perspective was interpreted through the framework of Career Development Theory revealing the internal and external forces impacting career development chronology, experiences, contexts, behavioral patterns, beliefs, and leadership of women who have become Deans. Gender-related and industry-related experiences illustrate how the investigated Deans must strategize professionally. The research participants have become business school Deans by being resilient and service-oriented as they lead innovation in business education with a keen sense of collaboration, relationship-building, and decisiveness. The research participants achieved a deanship by responding to challenges and opportunities mindfully as experienced experts who strategically ask, say yes to the right career advancement opportunities, and are proactive when they know it is time to make a move, take a break, or leave. This study reveals insight for career advancement among various positions in academia with some roles offering more relevant experience than others. Additionally, this research uncovers how motherhood can offer a rewarding and grounding identity for leaders in academia. Finally, the women deans investigated in this study value relationships and leverage support networks while maintaining a continuum of life-long learning, self-care, and self-belief.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Women deans (Education)--United States; Leadership--Business schools--United States; Career development

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Mark Allen