Date of Award

August 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Psychology

First Advisor

Nadya A. Fouad

Committee Members

Liliana Mina, Maureen Keyes, Shannon Chavez-Korell, Christine Larson


Athletic Directors, College Athletics, Division I, Leadership, Sexism, Women


This study investigated eight Division I (DI) collegiate women athletic directors' (ADs) career experiences and perceptions of sexism within their careers and athletics as a whole. Over the last century, women's sports have made great strides toward equality in athletics. Specifically, the last four decades have yielded notable progress including the amendment of Title IX in 1972, which allowed women and men equal access to federal funding for sports, as well as the creation of women's professional sports leagues, increased numbers of girls and women participating in athletics, increased numbers of women's collegiate teams, and increased rates of women employed in collegiate athletics (Acosta & Carpenter, 2014). Despite these many efforts and accomplishments, sexism and gender inequities continue to loom within the sports' world. As a result, women and girls involved in athletics are experiencing numerous harmful effects regarding poor self-concept (Leaper & Brown, 2008), distorted body image (Greenleaf, 2002; Krane, Choi, Baird, Aimar, & Kauer, 2004; Parsons & Betz, 2001; Steinfeldt, Zakrajsek, Bodey, Middendorf, & Martin, 2013), challenges in socioemotional adjustment (Leaper & Brown, 2008), and a lack of career opportunities (Acosta & Carpenter, 2014), to name a few. Moreover, the realm of college sports is no exception to gender inequality, and is of particular interest because it is federally funded vis-à-vis Title IX. Currently, only 10% of DI collegiate ADs are women, and 11.4% of collegiate athletic departments have no women in administration positions (Acosta & Carpenter, 2014).

With the 42nd anniversary of the enactment of Title IX occurring this year, it is imperative to acknowledge improvements around the status of women in sports, but more importantly reexamine areas that have not improved, or have in fact regressed. One of the most important areas in need of improvement is the representation of women in leadership positions within collegiate sports administrations. Due to the limited research on women collegiate ADs' perceptions of sexism in athletics, this qualitative research was framed as an exploratory study, and it utilized a critical feminist theory framework and grounded theory analysis. Data was obtained in semi-structured exploratory interviews with eight current DI collegiate women ADs.

Four significant concepts emerged from the data, including Luck Over Talent, which captured how participants attributed their success to luck versus talent; Ambivalent Awareness of Sexism, which described how most participants expressed ambivalence around their awareness of sexism in their careers and in athletics; Prevalence of Subtle Sexism, which encapsulated how participants acknowledged experiencing sexism but typically in a "subtle" fashion as opposed to a blatant fashion; and Overcoming Hurdles, which related to participants describing strategies for success. In addition, a visual model based on grounded theory was proposed to further explain how DI college women ADs might navigate sexism within their careers. Results from this study aim to provide direction for future research on sexism in athletics, improve the underrepresentation of women ADs in college athletics departments and career fields traditionally dominated by men, and inform counseling psychologist's practice with girls and women who are involved in or interested in pursuing careers in athletics.