They remain lower paid, often working 10 to 15 hours a week longer than their male counterparts, and are more often victims of bullying by senior managers, a new analysis of trends in college promotions since 1993 has revealed.
There has been a sea-change in many areas of management, with more principals - both male and female - adopting an inclusive "feminine" style, according to Dr Farzana Shain who carried out the research at Keele University.
The number of women principals in colleges has grown from 13 to 97 since incorporation. But this is still fewer than one in five.
Their presence in the job signals that women can reach the top, but it can also deter others from seeking promotion, Dr Shain said. They see "the contradictions and tensions that are a central feature of working within highly competitive and masculine cultures".
This "burden of representation" is made worse by their efforts to balance work and home life. Women work extremely long hours to balance the various demands of teaching, management and other responsibilities.
They get caught up in the attempt to "balance the needs of individuals and their emotions" with the need to "get things done". Many of the women managers interviewed during the research said they felt vulnerable, which Dr Shain says, is characteristic of being caught in the middle.
A paper on Dr Shain's work, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, was presented at the British Educational Research Association conference in Brighton.
The research showed that the boy's own culture still evident in many colleges is a deterrent to women's promotion. Their personal experience of their colleges' organisational culture is a critical factor in determining whether they "opt" for promotion.
Emma, a senior manager in her mid-30s with young children, decided not to try to become a principal because she was unwilling to temper her outspoken nature, which would be necessary to reach that level. Meanwhile, Isabel, a middle manager, regarded the prospect of being swallowed up by corporate culture as too high a price to pay for promotion.
Dr Shain concludes that a complex network of cultures and relationships both help and hinder women's chances of promotion. "While some women are indeed being seduced by managerial identities, many others are not willing to pay the price in terms of their personal lives."