An Examination of the Career Paths and Professional Challenges of Women in Management Positions in Major University and College Transportation Departments

Open Access
Davis, Teresa Ann
Graduate Program:
Workforce Education and Development
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
April 23, 2008
Committee Members:
  • Judith Ann Kolb, Committee Chair
  • Edgar I Farmer Sr., Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • Wesley Edward Donahue, Committee Member
  • women managers
  • university transportation departments
  • career paths of women managers
  • professional challenges of women managers
Women have been involved in the field of transportation since the 1800s yet although women comprise almost half of today's workforce, the transportation industry continues to be male-dominated. The Transportation Research Board in its 2000 Task Force on Women's Issues in Transportation identified a need to learn more about women leaders in transportation and their career paths. Such new knowledge would help the transportation industry in the pursuit and hiring of women into transportation careers. Additionally, such information would assist those females wishing to pursue a career in transportation. The purpose of this study was to examine the career paths and professional challenges of women managers in major university and college transportation departments. A theoretical model by Karaevli and Hall that shows how managerial adaptability develops from career variety over the span of a person's career was used as the study's conceptual framework. Additionally, due to the lack of information related to women managers in transportation, demographic information of women managers in major university and college transportation departments was obtained. Qualitative analysis was used to gather and analyze data about the career paths and professional challenges of women managers in major university and college transportation departments. Descriptive statistics were used to gather valuable demographic information on the women managers. Thirty-three women managers from universities and colleges with a student enrollment of 20,000 or more students participated in a survey developed to gain demographic information, information related to their career paths, and any information about professional challenges. Twelve in-depth interviews were conducted with higher-level women managers in transportation. Finally, a focus group comprised of five participants was conducted to verify and/or confirm findings from the in-depth interviews. The findings from the study resulted in the following three themes: "Climbing the Ladder;" "Experience is the Key;" and "Support of the Administration." Most of the women managers rose within the ranks of their department rather than moving between various external work experiences. And, in terms of those work experiences, experience assumed the dominant role over training and education in relationship to preparing for managerial positions in these transportation departments. Most participants agreed that in order to be successful in their positions they also needed the support of the university or college administration. Additional findings from this study provide demographic information that can be used to help build a base of knowledge for the topic of women in transportation. All of the women participating in the study were over the age of thirty-one years old with the majority over forty-one. The majority of these women were married with almost half with children still residing in their homes. Over half of them possessed a four-year degree. When identifying the career variety of these women managers the findings reflect a fairly low level of career variety, however when evaluated in terms of knowledge internal to the industry these women showed a high level of career variety. Although the participants pursued advancement within their departments and in some cases, within their university or college, few were interested in pursuing career variety outside of those areas. Professional challenges were identified and discussed during the interviews. The findings from these discussions indicated a variety of challenges ranging from issues related to working in a traditionally-male industry, to learning how to deal with the politics of the university and industry, to issues related to support or lack of support from the university or college administration. Various issues related to communication were also identified. Skills to handle such professional challenges were obtained more through previous work experiences and personality traits than any other areas. The findings of the study led to recommendations for women wishing to pursue a profession in major university or college transportation departments and will add to the current body of knowledge on transportation as a career. Such information will also be useful to transportation employers, professional organizations, and educational institutions for the recruitment and retention of individuals in the field.