Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


The Role of Mentoring, Family Support and Networking in the Career Trajectory of Female Senior Leaders in Health Care and Higher Education

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Julie H. Edmister

Second Advisor

Dr. Mark A. Earley (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Dr. Diane Frey (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Judy Jackson May (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Martha Shouldis (Committee Member)


This life history study provides insight into the career paths of six females who attained the highest career level – president – in their organizations by exploring the influence of mentoring, family support, and networking in their career trajectories.

Three female senior leaders from Health Care and three female senior leaders from Higher Education in the Midwest participated in the study. The leaders’ personal experiences were captured in narrative form through personal interviews with the researcher and coded and analyzed for patterns and themes. Daniel J. Levinson’s adult development stages (Levinson, Darrow, Klein, Levinson and McKee, 1978) were used to frame the four phases of career progression in the participant’s lives and provide a foundation for a conceptual model depicting the influence of mentoring, family support and networking.

Findings showed that the support of family was apparent throughout the female senior leaders’ lives and their career trajectories. Mentors were most prevalent during pre-adult, early adult and the first part of middle adult stages. As the careers of the female leaders progressed into the later parts of early adult and throughout the middle adult stages, the importance and active use of networking was critical to obtain and maintain their current senior leadership position.

Three themes emerged in this study: (1) Informal mentoring facilitated the women’s climb up the administrative ladder to senior levels, (2) Strong family support was essential throughout the women’s career trajectories, and (3) Networking was important as a career management strategy.

Recommendations include that employers integrate mentoring and networking programs into their human resource policies. Secondly, that educators integrate these findings into course curriculum to inform females of the importance of mentoring, strong family support and networking in their career progression. Recommendations for future research include interviewing women who are relatively “new” to senior leadership positions. In addition, it is recommended that researchers explore strengths and limitations of informal and formal mentoring programs for women aspiring to senior leadership positions and to expand beyond the two sectors explored in this study, and use the themes in this study as variables for a quantitative research study.