Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education/Higher Education PhD

First Advisor

Tricia Kress

Second Advisor

Anita Brown

Third Advisor

Cathy L. Barlow


This study seeks to examine the influence of gender and positionality on the leadership styles of women superintendents currently serving in Massachusetts public school districts. The qualitative, phenomenological study was conducted in two phases. During phase 1, the Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire (MLQ) was distributed to women superintendents currently serving Massachusetts public school districts. During phase 2, semi-structured, qualitative interviews were conducted with the seven participants selected. Guided by a theoretical framework which was informed by postmodern feminism, educational leadership theory, transformational leadership, and positionality, a multi-level approach to analysis was employed. The influence of gender and positionality were examined at the micro, meso and macro level.

With regard to the leadership style, findings revealed that all of the women leaders interviewed led using a transformational style. In addition, they acted in conjunction with their beliefs, and used their leadership skills, understanding, empathy, and awareness of people to inform their style. They led strategically, with behaviors that align with both the stereotypically feminine characteristics, and at times, the masculine notions of leadership (assertive, agentic). This supports the idea that leadership style is not static, but dynamic, and there is fluid movement between what is considered stereotypically masculine and stereotypically feminine leadership styles in response to a given situation.

The influence of gender was identified by each woman differently. Overall, the influence of gender is most heavily felt at the organizational, or macro level, particularly when it comes to politics, the job search process, and the notion of a career ladder. Gender also influenced interactions within the community. The women participants identified navigating political pressure and even subtle questioning of their qualifications as examples of experiences they have had related to their gender. The complex nature of the work, and the demands of today’s educational context all influence the leadership that is occurring in our school districts. What can be gleaned from this study is that leadership is both complex and personal. It is intimately tied to the experiences of the individual leader.


Free and open access to this Campus Access Dissertation is made available to the UMass Boston community by ScholarWorks at UMass Boston. Those not on campus and those without a UMass Boston campus username and password may gain access to this dissertation through resources like Proquest Dissertations & Theses Global or through Interlibrary Loan. If you have a UMass Boston campus username and password and would like to download this work from off-campus, click on the "Off-Campus UMass Boston Users" link above.