Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Antonio Jímenez-Luque, PhD, Chair; Lea Hubbard, PhD, Member; Lorri Sulpizio, PhD, Member


leadership, working parents, sensemaking, agency


Working mothers in America have long juggled a multitude of responsibilities while navigating several systemic barriers in the very society that claims to support them. The COVID-19 pandemic had an outsized impact on mothers when children were sent home from daycares and schools to reduce the spread of the virus. This study sought to address an important gap in the literature by using a mixed methods constructivist grounded theory approach to examine how working mothers in leadership positions navigated their various roles and systems during the COVID-19 pandemic. Data collection consisted of a survey with 105 respondents, followed by individual, dyad, or triad interviews with 11 participants, and then a focus group with five participants. The study revealed that working mothers moved through an external experience as well as an internal sensemaking journey and identity development process throughout the pandemic time, emerging with a greater sense of agency. The external experience included (1) the impact of the pandemic, (2) navigating the pandemic, (3) leveraging the pandemic, and (4) adapting for a post-pandemic future. Meanwhile, their internal sensemaking followed a similar process, with many working mothers reflecting upon (1) the challenges they faced, (2) what helped them along the way, (3) the changes that became possible, and (4) what they wanted for themselves in a post-pandemic world.

Regarding theoretical contributions to the field of leadership studies, these findings offer an example of how context influences the emergence of different leadership styles. While mainstream leadership and academic research has been focused on male-centered perspectives, this work is focused on women’s ways of developing their identities and exercising leadership. This research also explores how the pandemic influenced the systems that impact working mothers and articulates the unique lived experiences of working mothers during this period. Perhaps most importantly, this study explains a sensemaking journey that led to an important transformation that many working mothers experienced as a direct result of their pandemic experience: choosing to enact greater agency and leading with increased resilience and deepened compassion. This finding serves as an important indicator about the leadership needed in an evolving, post-pandemic working world.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies

Available for download on Friday, May 08, 2026