Date of Award

January 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning

First Advisor

Myrna Olson


The purpose of this mixed methods study was to explore female faculty members' experiences with maternity leave, while working as a career academic in higher education. Participants consisted of women currently employed in an upper Midwest state at six four-year institutions. An online survey was completed by 121 women, and 30 of these women also participated in face-to-face or telephone interviews. Survey participants completed both open and closed-ended questions. Face-to-face interviews were audio recorded and transcribed, then analyzed for codes, categories, and themes.

Four themes emerged from the analysis of the data: there was a lack of information on maternity leave at all six institutions involved in this study; female faculty members experiencing maternity leave often felt a lack of power in their work environments to do what was best for themselves and their children; female faculty felt there were gender beliefs within their work setting concerning pregnancy, maternity leave, and how that related to their overall status at their institutions; and female faculty in this study felt stressed when becoming a parent in combination with fulfilling their faculty roles.

These four themes led to two final assertions in this study. Female faculty members who had children while employed by these universities experienced several hardships related to lack of information, lack of power, and perceived gender beliefs. These female faculty members, who became parents while employed by these universities, also experienced stress associated with pregnancy, adoption, and child care responsibilities.

The rigors of becoming a new parent and navigating higher education as a career field may place women in an unsupportive and stressful situation. Working to craft policy that supports and guides women during the experience of becoming a parent will help to ensure women's participation at all levels of higher education.