The XX Factor: Attributes of Female Leaders

The XX Factor: Attributes of Female Leaders



Laura Cotten Howell



A higher percentage of women than men in the United States earn degrees from higher education institutions. Women are among the highest performers in organizations, and, in academia, earn the majority of research awards. However, women are disproportionately underrepresented in positions of leadership at all levels of higher education institutions. If this gender-based divergence of promotion is to be addressed, it is important to first understand the women who are the outliers: those who have achieved higher education leadership positions. The purpose of this literature review is to discover the characteristics and skills women in leadership positions attribute to their success. The literature suggests a high proportion of women leaders not only thrive in cultures which value collaborative teams and democratic decision-making processes, women also help to establish these cultures on campus. Women in leadership positions consider building relationships as key in creating successful change. Women also attribute their credibility and trust with the success of their leadership role. In fact, many women argued without credibility and trust, they would be unable to successfully perform their roles. The “Pipeline Theory” suggests as more educated women enter the professional workplace, more women will naturally earn top leadership positions. This, however, has not been the case. By understanding why there is a lack of women in top leadership positions of higher education I seek to examine gender inequalities and unconscious bias surrounding women leaders and preventing them from obtaining top leadership positions.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Graduate Research

Primary Advisor

Corinne Brion

Primary Advisor's Department

Educational Leadership


Stander Symposium project, School of Education and Health Sciences

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Gender Equality; Reduced Inequalities

The XX Factor: Attributes of Female Leaders