Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Nydia Sánchez, PhD, Chair; Robert Donmoyer, PhD, Member; Lorri Sulpizio, PhD, Member


matricentric feminism, motherhood studies, good mother, intensive motherhood, ideal worker, community college leadership, mother-leader, women and leadership


In the United States, women are more likely to become mothers today than they were 10 years ago. Nationally, 86% of women become mothers, and, in particular, the rates of motherhood for college educated women have increased from 65% to 80% over the last two decades. In California community colleges (CCCs), most students, faculty, and administrators are women. Despite holding most leadership positions in CCCs and the number of women who become mothers nationally, little is reported in the literature about the experiences of women who are mother-leaders.

Drawing on the concept of the ideal worker and matricentric feminism’s distinction between mothering and motherhood, I used narrative inquiry to examine the experiences of women who are mothers and community college leaders. I applied a matrifocal approach—i.e., centered on a mother as a whole person—to consider the multiple intersecting identities participants hold in addition to mothering and leadership. In total, I conducted 16 semi-structured one-on-one interviews with eight participants from across the north (n=2) and south regions (n=6) of CCCs. Participants represented various leadership types, from the dean to vice chancellor levels, and their motherhood journeys were diverse with children ranging from toddlers to young adults.

My thematic analysis revealed the ways that participants experience dominant narratives related to mothering (e.g., the perfect mother construct, patriarchal motherhood, and intensive motherhood) and leadership (e.g., gender and leadership and the ideal worker assumption). Although participants reported experiences with dominant narratives that can dictate mothering and leadership and lead to pressures, they were active in resisting these narratives through a complex meaning-making process. Participants crafted counternarratives to the ubiquitous messaging women receive in both mothering and leadership. Further, participants described the overlap of mothering and leadership, including occurrences of bias and discrimination, instances of receiving support and supporting others, and the impact of representation. These counternarratives demonstrate a move from prescriptive motherhood expectations to empowered mothering and a shift from traditional conceptions of leadership to more people-centered wholehearted approaches. Ultimately, my research illuminates the transformational resistance of mother-leaders and delineates implications for practice, policy, theory, and research.

Document Type

Dissertation: USD Users Only


Leadership Studies

Available for download on Thursday, November 21, 2024