Spurlock, Rebecca L. (2010-01). Work, Nonwork, and Network: The Public and Private Lives of Women Chief Student Affairs Officers. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • Women make up a majority of those employed in higher education, yet they are still a minority in leadership positions. Completing a doctoral degree, relocating for career advancement, and working in demanding, high time commitment roles are typically required to achieve the chief student affairs officer (CSAO) position, as well as contributors to burnout and attrition in the field. This study sought to gain a deeper understanding of the intersection of career progression (work), balance (nonwork) and relationships (network) of women chief student affairs officers, specifically, how gender is an influence, understanding life roles and whether there is a cost of achievement in the field. The literature in the field suggests the achievement and constant maintenance of balance, which is viewed through a male construct, is the norm. It is evident that the need to understand the particular phenomenon of work and nonwork intersections of women, particularly in the chief role, gives voice to an issue for women that have been rarely heard in the field. This study utilized the naturalistic inquiry paradigm of research. The author conducted in-depth interviews of nine women CSAOs at colleges and universities across the United States. Data were analyzed using a constant comparative method which allowed the findings to emerge. The results show that women CSAOs felt that gender had a clear impact on their career both in their choices and how they were treated by others. The impact of gender has been felt at all stages in their careers including in their roles as CSAOs on issues of discrimination, leadership style, spousal expectations, and choices regarding if and when - or whether - to have children. Respondents also articulated the different domains of their life in terms of roles, but did not seem them as distinctly separate in the manner in which they manage their lives. Additionally, all of the respondents felt their public and private lives intersected and that keeping them in separate domains was not only impossible, but unnecessary. Lastly, there were significant and ongoing costs of achievement in the field, mostly notably lack of friends and short and/or long term health problems.

publication date

  • January 2010