Exploration of the career pathways of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I women athletics directors



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The purpose of this qualitative collective case study was to explore the perceptions and experiences of NCAA Division I women athletics directors on their career pathways to the director position. Of specific interest in this study were how these women described their career pathways, challenges encountered, as well as their recommendations for women seeking to attain an athletics director position. The findings of this study will add to the existing body of knowledge on women’s attainment of NCAA athletics director positions. The study was conducted through the lens of the social constructivist paradigm and conducted as a qualitative collective case study. This study took place via National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) member institutions throughout the U.S., across all three NCAA Division I subdivisions. Purposeful sampling was used to identify the 13 participants in this study. Participants were active women athletics directors at a NCAA Division I university. Data was collected through semi-structured interviews, field notes, documents, and audio-visual artifacts. Data analysis included the collection, organization, and reflection upon the data collected. Further, constant comparative method as well as axial and open coding was utilized to identify emerging themes. Trustworthiness in the conduction of the study was ensured through prolonged engagement with the participants, member checks, researcher's reflective journal, rich, thick descriptions of participants' voice, and an audit trail. This study had multiple findings. These included that there are both traditional and emerging non-traditional pathways to the athletics director position, there is a lack of representation of women in athletics director roles; women must overcome challenges to pursue the athletics director role; the importance of career advancement opportunities, continuous professional development is required for career advancement, and future career success is dependent on multiple factors. The findings of this study resulted in the following implications for higher education. The first implication is that encouraging women student athlete to consider a career in college athletics is important. The second is that while professional development initiatives, focused on diversity of leadership, are making an impact; exposure to external departmental units, football, and men’s basketball are also key. The third implication is that women must identify networks and peers to empower them throughout their career path.
The following recommendations are based on the findings of this study. The first recommendation is to continue to support women student athletes exploring a career in college athletics and providing them with professional development opportunities. The second recommendation is to encourage current leaders to actively mentor women within their leadership team to pursue leadership opportunities. This recommendation also includes actively encouraging broad based networking. The third recommendation to women aspiring to attain an athletics director role is to become resilient and to build their own leadership story. Recommendations for future research include a qualitative collective case study of men athletics directors who have mentored women who have attained an athletics director role. This might provide insight into successful support of women leaders. An additional recommendation for a future study would be a qualitative collective case study of women who have served in college athletics at the executive level and not attained an athletics director position. This group could have unique insight into their experience without attainment of the athletics director role.



Women Athletics Directors, Career Pathways