Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


Female Law Enforcement Leaders: Adapting, Improvising and Overcoming Socialized Gender Roles

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Judith Jackson May (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Jared Rose (Advisor)

Third Advisor

Tracy Huziak-Clark (Advisor)

Fourth Advisor

Joyce Litten (Advisor)

Fifth Advisor

Jennie Sweet-Cushman (Advisor)


The social environment of law enforcement has typically been conceptualized as a man's domain. Within this domain, women are expected only to occupy gender-appropriate positions, including duties such as clerical, jail matrons, working with juveniles, or assisting rape victims (Harrington, 1999; Lee, 2005; Martin, 1980; Price, 1996; Snow, 2010). The number of women present in law enforcement, especially at the leadership level, remains low (Hays, Regoli & Hewitt, 2007; Hughes, 2011; Kiamba, 2008). Researchers have indicated that women's challenges in this traditionally male occupation result from culturally established sex-role norms and behaviors (Martin, 1980; Price, 1996; Snow, 2010).

The socialization process learned from birth throughout adolescence promotes gender acceptable behaviors that influence personal beliefs and stigmas throughout a person's life (Bussey & Bandura, 1999). Social cognitive learning theory specifies how gender conceptions develop as a product of constant interaction between behavior, personal, and environmental factors (Bussey & Bandura, 1999; Wood & Bandura, 1989). Additionally, since women were perceived as inferior, knowledge produced by this subordinated group can be valuable research since women are motivated to understand the perspectives of those who hold the positions of power (D’Ignazio & Klein, 2020; Mann, 2012).

This qualitative narrative study examined the stories of three women who have been able to ascend to the highest position within their agencies. The study utilized the lens of Bandura’s Social Cognitive theory to critique how the structure and conditions of the socialization process impacted the life and professional experiences of the participant females in law enforcement. As a result of the investigation the researcher asserted that significant change can only be realized with the participation of the males who currently dominate law enforcement leadership. Further, three recommendations were offered for females seeking to promote success in the law enforcement. The recommendations included the need for females to build social capital, to engage in meaningful community involvement, and to develop significant mentoring relationships with both males and female law enforcement leaders.