July 2001:Rethinking Leadership Education: Giving Women a Fighting Chance
Rethinking Leadership Education: Giving Women a Fighting Chance
July 31, 2001
"As more women enter the work place and assume positions of leadership in traditionally male-dominated institutions and businesses, leadership educators need to assess whether they are adequately preparing young women to succeed as leaders. Aburdeen and Naisbitt (1992) stressed the importance of this changing scenario not be ignored, underestimated, or misunderstood.
However, individual success for women is only part of the picture. The emergent view of leadership recognizes the need for a more nurturing, or feminine style (Lee, 1994). Leadership is evolving from its patriarchal roots to the emerging paradigm of a network of shared leadership. With this new model, leaders are expected to develop a shared vision, build community, foster dialogue, and nurture collective capability. This shift from hierarchical, task-driven organizations creates even greater opportunity for women (Helgesen, 1990; Aburdeen and Naisbitt, 1992).
The purpose of this study is to 1) examine the difference of self-perceived leadership skills between men and women who elected to take a collegiate leadership course; 2) determine if a relationship existed between women's previous leadership experiences and their self-perceived leadership skills; and 3) examine the differences of self-perceived leadership skills between women in an all-female educational setting and women in a coeducational setting.
The population for this study consisted of students who enrolled in collegiate academic leadership classes. The sample consisted of students who enrolled during the 1996 fall semester, in Agricultural Education 340, Professional Leadership Development, at Texas A&M University (n=200).
A correlational design was used for this study. The dependent variable was the Leadership Skills Inventory (LSI) score. The independent variables were: gender and previous leadership experience. Since random assignment was not possible (students self-selected into the various sections of the course,), the research design is quasi-experimental.
The laboratory experiences of the experimental (all female) and the control group (coeducational) were kept as identical as possible, with the exception that the experimental group was exposed to the treatment (all-female classroom setting). The principle investigator taught both the control and experimental sections to eliminate any possible teacher effect for this part of the study. Identical experiential learning activities were used in all laboratory sections.
The instrument used to assess the students' self-perception of leadership skills was the Leadership Skills Inventory (LSI), developed at Iowa State University in 1980 by Carter and Townsend (Townsend, 1981). The LSI contained 21 statements describing various leadership and life skills. These statements corresponded to five internal scales for analysis. The five internal scales were: 1) Working with Groups, 2) Understanding Self, 3) Communicating, 4) Making Decisions, and 5) Leadership. Responses were measured on a five-point Likert-type scale.
In addition to quantitative measurement of the students' perceptions, qualitative information was collected from the laboratory sections throughout the semester. These documents included: reflective journals, an open-ended course evaluation, personal-vision papers, worksheets from a value-setting activity, and transcripts from small-group discussion.
Following 13 weeks of leadership development lectures and simulation activities, male and female students had the same self-perception of leadership skills. This result indicated that the social structure of the classroom did not have any adverse effect on women's leadership development from activities, when compared to men.
Though there was no difference in self-perceived leadership skills between the sexes, female students had distinctly different feelings about competitive simulation activities used in the labs when compared to male students. Nearly half of the female students in the all-female section requested that we stop competitive activities.
Perhaps the most troubling finding to the authors was the female student's difficulty in expressing a self independent of others. Findings from the Values, Goals and Potential activity and the Personal Vision papers supported Gilligan's (1982) thesis that women have great conflict developing a separate voice.
Finally, these findings indicated that an all-female classroom was superior to a coeducational setting for collegiate women in the development of working with groups, making decisions, communicating, understanding self, and leadership. This portion of the study reinforced Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule's (1986) conclusion that women enter the classroom with gender-specific needs.
The addition of an all-female laboratory section is recommended for collegiate leadership courses that develop the five skill areas examined in this study. It is recommended that leadership courses incorporate more activities that allow women to have opportunities to make decisions, defend their choices, and take responsibility for the outcome. In addition, leadership courses at both the high-school and college level need to have strengthened components in the areas of understanding self, communication, making decisions, and working with groups.
Further, it is recommended that leadership facilitators receive more training in the development of these four skill areas.
Naturalistic evaluation of women's experiences in leadership courses should be conducted to further determine stakeholder's needs in the development methodology. It is recommended that the role of competition in leadership development be further examined in this assessment. This type of qualitative evaluation is a process whereby evaluators and stakeholders jointly and collaboratively create a consensual construction of the situation. More evaluation of effectiveness of both high school and collegiate leadership courses and activities is recommended to improve long-term growth and stability over time (Thorp & Townsend, 1998, pp. 81-90)."
Reference: Thorp, L. & Townsend, C. (1998). Rethinking leadership education: giving women a fighting chance. A Leadership Journal: Women in Leadership, vol. 2, number 2, Spring 1998.
A Leadership Journal: Women in Leadership is available on loan from the OSU Leadership Center. A complete listing of all the Leadership Center's resources is available on our website http://leadershipcenter.osu.edu/
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Created: 2007-11-09, Updated: 2009-02-18