Gendered Realities and Women's Leadership Development: Participant Voices from Faith-Based Higher Education

Article (PDF Available)inChristian Higher Education 7(5):388-404 · October 2008with 283 Reads
DOI: 10.1080/15363750802171081
Women who seek high-level administrative leadership positions in various sectors of higher education continue to meet a variety of barriers (Eagly & Carli, 200710. Eagly , A. H. 2007. Female leadership advantage and disadvantage: Resolving the contradictions. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31: 1–12. [CrossRef], [Web of Science ®]View all references). These challenges are especially evident among the 105-member Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), an association of faith-based liberal arts institutions. Seeking to identify, equip, and encourage more women to enter high-level positions of leadership, in 1998 the CCCU launched a series of year-long leadership programs, each of which began with a five-day Women's Leadership Development Institute (WLDI). During four institutes held between 1998 and 2004, the WLDI involved 71 “emerging leaders” in a multifaceted leadership development program specifically intended for women. Survey responses from 53 of the 71 participants were used to assess which experiences in the one-year WLDI project had been most significant in encouraging and preparing participants for higher-level administrative leadership. Multiple regression analyses indicated that the experiences perceived as most beneficial by the participants were the shadowing/mentoring experience on another campus, the WLDI participation restriction to women, and the informal conversations and networking with other women. The shadowing/mentoring experience had the greatest influence on increasing the participants’ confidence in themselves as academic leaders and changing their thinking about their own leadership potential. Participation in a leadership program that was limited to women was frequently cited as a source of encouragement for these participants to remain in Christian higher education. More than half of the survey respondents moved into broader leadership responsibilities within one year of participating in the WLDI.
Human Resources
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The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/1523422311427429
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2012 14: 45 originally published online 7Advances in Developing Human Resources
Karen A. Longman and Shawna L. Lafreniere
Leadership in Faith-Based Higher Education
Moving Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling : Preparing Women for
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DOI: 10.1177/1523422311427429
man and LafreniereAdvances in Developing Human Resources
Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, CA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Karen A. Longman, Azusa Pacific University, 701 East Foothill Blvd. (Doctoral Higher Ed), Azusa 91702,
Moving Beyond the Stained
Glass Ceiling: Preparing
Women for Leadership in
Faith-Based Higher Education
Karen A. Longman
and Shawna L. Lafreniere
The Problem.
While a variety of factors have historically limited access by women to top-level
leadership positions across higher education, these factors become more complicated
when juxtaposed with the theological commitments that influence the leadership
journeys of women in these settings.
The Solution.
This article reviews the literature related to women in higher education leadership,
with a particular focus on the state of women in leadership found in faith-based
colleges and universities—as represented by the 110 member institutions of the
Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU). It describes the results of
in-depth research on the impact of a CCCU Women’s Leadership Development
initiative, launched in 1998. Qualitative and quantitative evaluation data are discussed
and implications outlined.
The Stakeholders.
The lessons emerging from this initiative and research can be helpful for postsecondary
leaders, HRD and leadership development professionals, and all those who focus on
developing women in higher education settings.
women, leadership development, higher education, gendered organizations, HRD
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46 Advances in Developing Human Resources 14(1)
The Cultural Context for Leadership in
Higher Education
Updates on the status of women in U.S. society occur with regularity in various news
publications. A few years ago, Time magazine’s special report on “The State of the
American Woman” opened with this striking reminder:
If you were a woman reading this magazine 40 years ago, the odds were good
that your husband provided the money to buy it. That you voted the same way
he did. That if you got breast cancer, he might be asked to sign the form
authorizing a mastectomy. That your son was heading to college but not your
daughter. That your boss, if you had a job, could explain that he was paying
you less because, after all, you were probably working just for pocket money.
(Gibbs, 2009, p. 27)
As American culture has experienced shifts in gender roles over recent decades,
changes have also occurred in terms of gendered realities within the field of higher
education. Colleges and universities first opened their doors to women in 1855 (Thelin,
2004); by 1980, the percentage of women attending higher education had eclipsed the
percentage of men (U.S. Department of Education, 2006). The trend toward increasing
numbers of women in higher education has continued, with documentation that as of
2007-2008 women earned 57.3% of bachelors degrees, 60.6% of masters degrees,
and 51% of doctoral degrees (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).
Educational attainment by women has therefore increasingly provided the prepa-
ration typically required for professional advancement. However, women continue
to be underrepresented in higher education senior administrative positions. According
to data from the American Council on Education, the percentage of women serving
as university presidents more than doubled from 9.5% in 1986 to 23% in 2006;
women held 38% of the chief academic officer positions, the primary pathway into
a presidency (King & Gomez, 2008).
Perceptions about women’s leadership in higher education may be skewed due to
recent appointments of women to lead prestigious universities such as Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, Princeton University, Harvard University, the University of
Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania. Harvard University’s decision to name
Dr. Drew Gilpin Faust as president in 2007, for example, represented a symbolic step
forward for women in academe. Susan Scrimshaw, president of Simmons College,
described the impact of this appointment: “I think of it as the last really big glass ceiling
in higher education. A woman becoming president of Harvard is breaking the last bar-
rier” (Wilson, 2007, p. 1).
Despite such rhetoric, these high-visibility presidencies by women must be viewed in
light of the fact that only 14% of the public doctoral universities and 7% of the private
doctoral universities nationwide are currently led by women (Hartley & Godin, 2009).
Most of the women holding presidencies serve in institutions of less than 3,000 students
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Longman and Lafreniere 47
and in community colleges. Documenting this pattern, the Council of Independent
Colleges (CIC), an association of more than 600 liberal arts colleges and universities,
reported that 28% of first-time presidents in its membership were women, as compared
to 30% of the community college presidents (Hartley & Godin, 2009).
Despite gains in the educational attainments of women students and, more modestly,
in the percentages of women holding senior-level leadership roles in higher education,
concerns have persisted about the chilly climate on many campuses first described by
Hall and Sandler (1982). Subsequent studies revealed that the chilly climate phenome-
non continued throughout the 1990s on college campuses (Whitt, Edison, Pascarella, &
Terenzini, 1999) and is an ongoing concern, as documented in a recent assessment enti-
tled “On Campus with Women” published by the Association of American Colleges and
Universities. The lead article (Vaccaro, 2010) was titled “Still Chilly in 2010: Campus
Climates for Women.”
The chilly climate on campuses mirrors similar broader concerns about organiza-
tional cultures that are unsupportive of women. Helgesen and Johnson (2010) have
described the phenomenon of talented women choosing to leave well-paying jobs
because “the structure of work was designed to reflect the realities of an all-male work-
force” (p. 58), also suggesting “a fundamental mismatch between what the marketplace
assumes people will value in their work and what women . . . most deeply value” (p. 58).
Several researchers have examined the gendered nature of organizational structures that
have limited access by women to top-level leadership positions (Ayman & Korabik,
2010; O’Neil, Hopkins, & Bilimoria, 2008). From the business perspective, a 2000
Harvard Business Review article discussed evidence that subtle and systemic forms of
discrimination still linger. Myerson and Fletcher (2000), both professors of manage-
ment, summarized their assessment of organizational culture:
It’s not the ceiling that’s holding women back; it’s the whole structure of the
organizations in which we work: the foundation, the beams, the walls, the very
air. The barriers to advancement are not just above women, they are all around
them. . . . We must ferret out the hidden barriers to equity and effectiveness one
by one. (p. 136)
Male-normed organizational cultures are a contributing factor to the scarcity of
women in senior leadership positions, a reality that contributes to tokenism—an
added challenge faced by women. Indeed, many women in senior leadership positions
are the only female at their rank, or carry memories of being in that position (Kezar,
Carducci, & Cantreras-McGavin, 2006; Madsen, 2008). A substantial body of litera-
ture has explored the concept of tokenism, building in part from Kanters (1993)
research about the beneficial impact that gender-balanced executive teams can have
on organizational culture. Research by Tiao and Tack (2007) on factors affecting
executive women’s leadership experiences identified that “the most effective way to
improve executive women’s experiences at work is to place more women in powerful
leadership positions” (p. 14).
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48 Advances in Developing Human Resources 14(1)
Leadership Within Faith-Based Higher Education
Within faith-based higher education, the 110-member Council for Christian Colleges
& Universities (CCCU) has drawn together institutions representing 29 Christian
denominations, with some member institutions being nondenominational or interde-
nominational. These campuses collectively serve 314,000 students, have 1.6 million
alumni, and have annual operating budgets of US$4.3 billion (Council for Christian
Colleges & Universities [CCCU; Profile], 2010-2011a). Membership in the CCCU
requires institutions to be intentionally Christ centered and to have (a) a public, board-
approved institutional mission or purpose statement that is Christ centered and rooted
in the historic Christian faith and (b) full-time faculty members and administrators
who profess faith in Jesus Christ (Council for Christian Colleges & Universities
[CCCU; Member Application], 2010-2011b).
Research on this sector of faith-based higher education confirms that women are
significantly underrepresented in all senior leadership roles. In 2010, only six of 110
presidents were female, with the two most recent additions only in the 2009-2010
academic year. Given that the role of chief academic officer is the primary pathway
to the presidency, it is notable that as of 2010, only 18 female chief academic officers
in the CCCU were women (Longman & Anderson, in press). Trends in CCCU senior-
level leadership from 1998 to 2010, analyzed by Longman and Anderson, docu-
mented that as of 2010, the average number of individuals serving in vice presidential
roles or higher across the 108 U.S. member institutions was 4.9 men and .99 women;
the percentage of institutions with no women in such executive positions was 33%
(36 institutions) while the percentage with one woman in executive leadership was
44% (48 institutions).
This lack of women’s voices in senior leadership is problematic in part because
of the gender balance of students across the CCCU. According to data gathered by
the U.S. Department of Education (2009) through the Integrated Postsecondary
Data System, the gender balance of 105 CCCU institutions that reported data in
2009 was 60% women in undergraduate population and 61% women for all stu-
dents. Regarding gender representation on the faculty, UCLAs Higher Education
Research Institute (HERI) data reflects that approximately 66% of the CCCU fac-
ulty are male and 34% are female (Council for Christian Colleges & Universities,
2004). Drawing from the same HERI database, CCCU female faculty (43.8%) were
significantly less likely to hold a doctoral degree than male faculty (67.4%) or than
female faculty elsewhere (54.6%). Fewer women faculty (27.2%) in the CCCU
were tenured, reflecting a significantly lower rate than male faculty within the
CCCU (46.2%) or female faculty elsewhere (37.3%).
While these gendered patterns of fewer women holding senior-level administrative
and faculty roles are consistent across higher education, the disparities are particularly
striking in the faith-based institutions of the CCCU. In this sector of higher education,
historical and theological patterns and commitments are often juxtaposed with deeply
held personal beliefs about authority structures and gender roles. Numerous authors
have discussed connections between hierarchy and traditional Christian beliefs (Creegan
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Longman and Lafreniere 49
& Pohl, 2005; LaCelle-Peterson, 2008). While a spectrum of opinions and practices
related to gender roles exists across various Christian traditions, a major study sup-
ported by the Pew Charitable Trusts noted that “gender persists as a central, salient and
effective element of the boundary work that maintains evangelical subcultures and
identity” (Gallagher, 2004, p. 216) and that the “vision of a hierarchically ordered uni-
verse has been drawn on with great success historically and continues as the orienting
gender story among the majority of conservative Protestants today” (pp. 218-219).
The implications of these cultural factors in terms of the experiences of female
students, faculty, and administrative leaders have been documented through a variety
of studies. For example, early research reported in Research on Christian Higher
Education (Sequeira, Trzyna, Abbot, & McHenry, 1995) described the microinequities
evident in attitudes and comments within one Christian university setting that con-
tributed to “pain and disappointment” (p. 1) for many of the female faculty. Using
historical data from the catalogues of 90 CCCU institutions, dissertation research by
Garlett (1997) compared faculty roles and ranks in 1970 and 1995 to determine
what changes had occurred in the status, number, and academic placement of female
faculty as compared with their male colleges. Garlett concluded that women on
these campuses did, indeed, face more career impediments than did their secular
The results of a 2007 survey of more than 1,900 faculty serving at CCCU institutions
concluded that gender inequities persist in Christian higher education (Joeckel & Chesnes,
2009). These authors reported that survey responses reflected an “unfortunate pattern of
gender polarization, a pattern that reveals more acutely the level of gender inequities on
CCCU campuses” (p. 117). For example, in response to the statement “Female faculty at
my college/university are treated equally to male faculty” (p. 117) only 24% of the female
respondents strongly agreed, compared with 47% of the male respondents. These
researchers concluded from an analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data:
In short, gender inequities have become subtly institutionalized, woven seam-
lessly into the daily, unquestioned workings of the school—hence the invisibil-
ity of sexism on campus, as indicated by our data—reinforced by a theological,
political, and social campus climate that has become normative and therefore
functionally homogenous. It is this homogeneity, among other dead weights,
that stalls attempts to eradicate sexism. (p. 123)
Only limited research has focused on women’s leadership roles in evangelical
higher education. Dissertation research by Lafreniere (2008) on individuals’ percep-
tions of ideal leadership qualities in CCCU institutions found no social-cognitive
explanation for prejudice to exist toward women in leadership; therefore, an accep-
tance of women in these roles might be expected. In addition, respondents indicated
a preference for transformational and relational leadership styles, which are more
characteristic of women’s leadership (Eagly & Carli, 2007; Eagly & Johannesen-
Schmidt, 2001). However, very few women currently serve in senior leadership
roles of the CCCU institutions. Dahlvig’s (2011) narrative study of five women
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50 Advances in Developing Human Resources 14(1)
leaders serving in CCCU institutions identified a variety of self-imposed and cultur-
ally imposed barriers to leadership for women, including theological perceptions of
gender roles and generational assumptions that contributed to fewer women pursu-
ing or obtaining senior-level roles.
In summary, women who seek leadership positions in CCCU institutions continue
to meet more barriers than men. Some of these challenges include a lack of role mod-
els, theological conservatism that limits access to top leadership positions, embracing
a collaborative leadership style that can be misunderstood or disrespected, and feeling
“out of sync” with the command-and-control leadership style of some male-dominated
administrative cabinets (Schreiner, 2002). One faculty member at a CCCU institution
commented in a 2005 Chronicle of Higher Education article, “. . . at conservative religious
institutions, women face a stained-glass ceiling, with the Bible and church tradition rou-
tinely used to justify gender discrimination” (Mock, 2005, p. B24).
The CCCU’s Women’s Leadership
Development Initiative
In part as a response to these concerns, the CCCU in 1996 launched a multifaced
project, the Executive Leadership Development Institutes (ELDI) designed to identify
and equip future leaders across CCCU member institutions. The following sections
describe the background of the ELDI, with particular attention to the Women’s
Leadership Development Institute (WLDI) that was first offered in 1998. The summary
includes both quantitative and qualitative evaluation data of the WLDI’s impact on the
lives of participants. Implications for HDR conclude the article.
Creation of the Executive Leadership Development Institute
The catalyst for launching the CCCU’s Leadership Development Institutes was a con-
cern expressed by CCCU leaders for collaborative work in developing future leadership for
Christian higher education. With supportive funding provided by a foundation, a Steering
Committee was formed to oversee the development of a project called the Executive
Leadership Development Institute (ELDI); the goal was to provide professional develop-
ment for newer presidents, newer chief academic officers, and emerging leaders.
The first Presidents’ Institute, held in 1996, involved 10 individuals who had served
in the presidency for many years as well as 10 newer presidents who had been in the
role 3 years or less; all 20 presidents were male. During the following year, each new
president had the opportunity to shadow a mentor president. In 1997, this same model
was used with 10 newer and 10 senior chief academic officers. That pattern of every-
other year offerings for presidents and chief academic officers has continued, with
some variation, in subsequent years.
During a time of evaluation with the Steering Committee after the 1996 Presidents’
Institute, the proposal of having presidents and chief academic officers of CCCU
institutions identify emerging leaders on their campuses for a formalized training
opportunity was discussed. Since very few women and almost no ethnic minorities
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Longman and Lafreniere 51
were in CCCU senior leadership roles at that time, the concern emerged that nomi-
nees for the first offering of the Leadership Development Institute (LDI) would likely
be predominantly White and male.
Given the CCCU’s commitment to expand the leadership presence of women and
persons of color across Christian higher education, the importance of diversifying the
pipeline into senior and administrative leadership was clear. In response, funding was
obtained to provide an LDI targeted specially to women with identified leadership
potential; thus, the WLDI concept was launched. Qualified ethnic minority applicants
were given priority in the selection process for the Mixed (i.e., men and women) LDI
and the Women’s LDI (WLDI). Nominations for these new groups were solicited from
senior leadership across the member campuses, with 17 participants identified for the
1998 mixed-group LDI and 15 for the WLDI group. Two 4-day Institutes for emerging
leaders were held in June 1998, a pattern that has continued every other year between
2000 and 2010. Participant groups consist of 16 to 22 Fellows plus a Resource Team of
cabinet-level leaders. Since 1996, the entire ELDI initiative has served more than 350
participants through an array of Presidents’ Institutes, Chief Academic Officers’
Institutes, and Leadership Development Institutes.
Model programs used to develop the LDI/WLDI curriculum include the Institute
for Education Management initiative at Harvard, the Max De Pree Center for
Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary, the Fellows Program sponsored by the
American Council on Education (ACE), and the HERS Summer Institute for Women
in Higher Education. Over the past12 years, the WLDIs have served 125 female
participants; the LDIs have served 62 women and 50 men. Related to the goal of
equipping persons of color for senior leadership, 23 women and 12 men of color
have participated in the WLDIs and LDIs to date.
Application Process
Selection criteria for WLDI participation have included (a) being recognized at an
institutional level as someone with demonstrated leadership skills, (b) holding a
doctorate or nearing completion of a doctorate, and (c) providing evidence of
increasing levels of leadership responsibility within and/or beyond higher education.
In addition, applicants must provide two letters of reference, at least one submitted
by a senior administrator on their campus or elsewhere. Applicants also address key
questions about their experiences and aspirations for leadership in higher education,
their philosophy of Christian leadership, a self-evaluation of their strengths and
leadership potential, identification of mentors, and a description of their profes-
sional, personal, and spiritual goals. Individuals nominated for participation in the
LDI or WLDI have typically been assistant deans, department heads, division chairs,
or other faculty leaders.
The starting point for the year-long WLDI/LDI experience is a 4-day Institute held
in June every other year (1998-2010) at a retreat center located in Washington state. In
addition to the Institute itself, the broader year-long WLDI/LDI program includes (a)
the gift of a modest leadership library of articles and books; (b) the design of a 1-year
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52 Advances in Developing Human Resources 14(1)
Professional Development Plan; (c) networking with experienced administrators on
the Resource Team; (d) financial support toward a 2- or 3-day “shadowing” experience
with a senior leader on another CCCU campus; and (e) opportunities to attend an
Advanced Leadership either at the conclusion of the year or in future years.
The Resource Team at each Institute offers a variety of presentations and panel
discussions, with ample time for group interaction. Sessions typically have included
an introduction to board governance, higher education finance, understanding organiza-
tional culture, external constituency relations, conflict resolution, decision making, strate-
gic planning, team building, and balancing multiple responsibilities. In addition,
participants in recent years have entered the summer institute having taken the Clifton
StrengthsFinder, a web-based instrument developed by The Gallup Organization and used
with more than 5 million individuals worldwide to assess patterns of natural giftedness.
Discussions about individual talents and giftedness have been combined with opportuni-
ties to discuss and discern the participants’ sense of calling in their personal and profes-
sional lives.
Research Method
An initial study of the WLDI’s impact on the 71 women who had participated in
1998-2004 was conducted in 2005 (Lafreniere & Longman, 2008). Early in 2010,
the participants from the 2006 and 2008 WLDI groups were sent the same survey,
yielding an overall response rate of 79% among the WLDI participants between
1998 and 2008. A web-based survey instrument consisting of 44 questions was cre-
ated by the researchers. Survey questions were related to the desired outcomes for
the WLDI program; participants used a 7-point Likert-type scale to indicate the
impact of various program components (1 indicating not at all and 7 indicating a
great degree). In addition, one open-ended question asked participants to specify
what they deemed to be “the single most beneficial impact of the WLDI” in their
professional and/or personal life.
To examine the extent to which the program met its desired outcomes, participants’
responses were analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics. In the inferential
analyses, the independent variables were those components of the on-site Institute that
were perceived as contributing most significantly to the equipping of participants for
leadership roles, the perceived beneficial impact of increased confidence through the
nomination and selection process, the creation of a 1-year Professional Development
Plan, and participation in a 2- or 3-day shadowing experience with a senior leader on
another campus. The dependent variable was participants’ ratings of the extent to
which the WLDI was helpful to their professional development.
Assessment of the WLDI Initiative
To analyze which components of the WLDI program explained the most variation in
participants’ ratings of the program’s effectiveness, six multiple regression analyses
were conducted, entering all predictor variables simultaneously in one block. Each
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Longman and Lafreniere 53
analysis used the same predictor variables: (a) creating a Professional Development
Plan to serve as a building block to consider future academic leadership opportunities;
(b) the beneficial impact of the WLDI experience being limited to other women; (c)
the shadowing experience on another campus as an influencer to consider future aca-
demic leadership positions; (d) the helpfulness of informal conversations with other
women during the WLDI; (e) the helpfulness of the books, handouts, and other written
resources provided before, during, and after the WLDI; and (f) the helpfulness of the
workshop sessions for professional development.
The first regression analysis utilized as its criterion variable the participants’ rating
of the extent to which the WLDI had met their expectations for leadership development
training. The model explained 74% (R
= .743) of the variance in the ratings of expecta-
tions, with the following three predictor variables reaching significance. The workshop
sessions had the greatest influence on whether participants’ expectations for leadership
development training had been met through the WLDI experience (β = .557, p < .001),
followed by the helpfulness of books, handouts, and other written resources (β =.356,
p < .001), and the impact of the Institute being limited to other women (β = .183, p <
.05). In all cases, here and in the following sections, the direction of influence of the
predictor variables was positive.
Participants’ increased self-confidence as an academic leader as a result of partici-
pating in the year-long WLDI experience was the criterion variable in the second
regression equation. The model explained 50% (R
= .499) of the variance in the ratings,
with two predictor variables reaching significance. The shadowing experience on
another campus as an influencer to consider future academic leadership positions
accounted for the most variance in increasing the participants’ self-confidence as an
academic leader (β =.423, p < .001), followed by the helpfulness of the written resources
for professional development (β = .321, p<.001).
In the third regression analysis, the criterion variable was the extent to which
involvement in the WLDI changed the way participants perceived themselves as being
viewed by male colleagues on campus. The model explained 43% (R
= .430) of the
variance in the ratings, with two predictor variables reaching significance. The creation
of the Professional Development Plan to organize participants’ thinking about future
academic leadership strategies had the greatest predictive ability (β = .360, p < .001),
followed by the beneficial impact of the informal conversations with other women dur-
ing the WLDI (β = .264, p < .05).
The extent to which participants’ thinking about their own leadership potential
changed as a result of involvement in the WLDI was examined through the fourth
regression analysis. The model explained 42% (R
= .424) of the variance in the ratings,
with two predictor variables reaching significance. The shadowing experience on
another campus as an influencer to consider future academic leadership positions had
the greatest impact (β =.364, p < .05), followed by the helpfulness of the workshop ses-
sions for professional development (β = .356, p < .001).
The fifth regression analysis examined whether WLDI participation had encour-
aged respondents to consider positions elsewhere and/or be willing to move into a new
level of responsibility on their home campus. The model explained 34% (R
= .343) of
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54 Advances in Developing Human Resources 14(1)
the variance in the ratings, with one predictor variable reaching significance. The ben-
eficial impact of informal conversations with other women during the WLDI had the
greatest influence on encouraging participants to consider positions elsewhere and/or
be willing to move into a new level of responsibility (β = .287, p < .05).
In the final regression analysis, the criterion variable was the extent to which involve-
ment in the WLDI served as an encouragement for participants to remain in Christian
higher education. The model explained 32% (R
= .317) of the variance in the ratings,
with one predictor variable reaching significance. The beneficial impact of the WLDI
being limited to other women had the greatest influence as an encouragement for par-
ticipants to remain in Christian higher education (β = .290, p < .05).
Overall, 60% of respondents indicated that they had moved into a new position that
reflected increased leadership responsibilities since participating in the WLDI. Most
of these women reported having an affirming experience in their first expanded leader-
ship position after attending.
Through an open-ended question, participants were asked to identify the single
most beneficial impact of the WLDI on their professional and/or personal life. In rank
order, the key themes that emerged included the following:
1. The women cited the positive benefits of getting to know other women
through the WLDI. One noted, “The networking relationships that occurred
during the week gave me multiple opportunities to reflect on my goals and
strengths within the context of Christian higher education.” Another com-
mented, “I believe the most important benefit is that of becoming aware of
a women’s leadership network within the CCCU institutions, and having the
opportunity to learn from others within the network.”
2. For many respondents, the mentoring/shadowing experience was signifi-
cant in reframing their thinking about their own potential leadership. One
individual responded, “Being mentored as a female professional into the
‘big picture’ of how a university really works.” Another commented on the
importance of learning about how to juggle multiple responsibilities: “It
gave me insight into how other women in positions of leadership at institu-
tions of Christian higher education balance the responsibilities of being a
wife, mother, and administrator.”
3. An additional beneficial impact was the opportunity to form ongoing profes-
sional relationships. One woman commented that she appreciated “having a
highly qualified group of peers to encourage me in my leadership journey.”
4. Many women expressed appreciation for the opportunity to interact with
others who shared similar commitments. One woman noted, “So often we
(women administrators) are the only one or one of a few on our campus, so
it was good to connect with other women to hear their realities and see that
we have similar experiences.”
5. For some participants, having time to focus, reflect, and clarify their per-
sonal sense of calling to the academic profession and/or to leadership was of
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Longman and Lafreniere 55
primary importance. One respondent said that she appreciated “. . . the time
set aside to learn and assess my capabilities. We live at such a hectic pace
that we rarely have time to constructively think about ourselves, our dreams,
and how to realize those dreams.”
6. Many participants reported finding encouragement to press on in spite
of resistance to women in leadership in Christian higher education. One
respondent identified the single most beneficial impact for her as “network-
ing with other women of similar calling and drive and finding support in their
similar struggles.” Participants expressed appreciation for the opportunity to
dialogue about the issues that women in leadership face; one described the
encouragement of “knowing there are others like me who understand the
unique nature of being a woman leader on a Christian campus.”
7. An important aspect of the WLDI was its role in acknowledging the value
of women in leadership in Christian higher education. From one participant:
It delivered me from the myth that women must operate like men in the
administrative world, or that there is one prescription for leadership that one
must follow. I learned to appreciate different forms of leadership as well as
different expressions of Christianity and saw that the struggles within my
own institution were common to many institutions.
8. Some experienced heightened confidence in their personal leadership abili-
ties. One woman commented that the WLDI built my confidence by placing
me in a supportive community of like-minded women. I found I was neither too
old, nor too shy, to move ahead in Christian higher education. Two women from
WLDI remain my best friends and mentors.
Another stated, “After participating in WLDI, I realized I had the skills and talents
to take on a senior leadership role. WLDI gave me the confidence to do the work.”
The significance of being nominated as a high-potential individual was noted by
several participants. Some reported that the nomination process itself caused senior
administrators to articulate, for the first time, their confidence of the leadership
potential in these women. This expressed confidence from a senior-level leader,
especially a male leader, caused women to view their potential future contributions
in a different light.
Research into the professional journeys of WLDI participants is contributing to our
understanding of what factors motivate or discourage women from moving toward
senior-level leadership. A grounded theory study by Dahlvig and Longman (2010)
researched the defining moments that were pivotal in the personal and professional
journeys of WLDI participants. Three themes emerged as common to the self-described
“most defining moment” on the leadership development journey of these women:
(a) someone speaking potential, sometimes as succinctly as a single sentence, into their
lives, leading to enhanced confidence of leadership abilities; (b) encountering a person
or situation that resulted in reframing the participant’s understanding of leadership in
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56 Advances in Developing Human Resources 14(1)
ways that allowed these women to begin perceiving themselves as leaders; and
(c) experiencing a situation that led to feeling compelled to stand up for a conviction
or a strong belief. More recently, Longman, Dahlvig, Wikkerink, Cunningham, and
O’Connor (2011) explored how WLDI participants understood the role of calling as a
factor in their leadership journeys. An understanding of giftedness combined by inter-
nal and external validation of gifts and calling were pivotal in women moving into
more senior leadership positions.
An analysis of participants in the leadership institutes held between 1998 and
2008 was conducted in 2009 to compare the role of participants while attending the
LDI/WLDI with their current role. This comparison revealed that a majority of
female participants had moved into more advanced positions on their campus or
elsewhere. The LDI advancements have included 3 provosts, 5 vice presidents, 8
deans, 3 directors, and 6 faculty rank advancements. The WLDI advancements have
included 2 presidents, 7 provosts, 11 vice presidents, 14 deans, 9 directors, and 11
faculty rank advancements.
Leadership Development—Implications for Practice
Lessons emerging from this Women’s Leadership Development initiative can benefit
leadership development and HRD professionals within and beyond higher education.
With critical needs for effective leadership facing organizations, businesses, and
social structures, learning from leadership development research and generating
informed theory and practice is essential. Given that information about existing pro-
grams has not been widely shared, several implications distilled from 12 years of
experience with the WLDI initiative are noted.
First, leadership development initiatives such as the WLDI can have a cumulative
impact on an organizational culture, particularly when individuals advocate for the pro-
gram from a variety of perspectives. Clearly, intentionality about the task of identifying
and equipping high-potential future leaders needs to be taken seriously both by HRD
professionals and by leaders throughout every facet of the organization. The WLDI
initiative began with enthusiastic support from the CCCU board in addition to member
college presidents and provosts, who have been asked to nominate program participants
over the past 12 years and fund their involvement. In addition, as the WLDI alumnae
network across faith-based higher education has expanded and the program’s visibility
and effectiveness have been established, many others have advocated for and encour-
aged professional colleagues to become participants. Creating an organizational culture
that affirms individual giftedness and opens opportunity for leadership development is
a broadscale responsibility.
Second, it should be recognized that effective leadership development program-
ming is targeted to meet particular needs and audiences. For example, O’Neil and
Bilimoria (2005) have observed that women’s careers can be divided into three age-
related phases: the idealistic achievement phase, the pragmatic endurance phase, and
the reinventive contribution phase. Although the WLDI has focused primarily on
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Longman and Lafreniere 57
emerging leaders, a new multiyear, multitiered proposal has been developed that seeks
to address the realities present in each of these three phases. HRD professionals work-
ing with organizational leadership need to prioritize among the multitude of possibili-
ties for leadership development, being attentive to the skills, knowledge, and attributes
necessary at various stages of the professional journey.
Third, leadership development and HRD professionals can benefit from reviewing
what is known about effective leadership development programs such as those identi-
fied in the articles of this Issue of Advances. Hopkins, O’Neil, Passarelli, and Bilimoria
(2008), for example, reviewed the literature on women’s leadership development and
identified strategic practices related to assessment, training and education programs,
coaching, mentoring, networking, experiential learning, and career planning. These
authors advocate for the use of leadership assessment tools; the WLDI has introduced
participants to the Clifton StrengthsFinder as a mechanism for identifying patterns of
giftedness. They also argue that “leadership development needs to be unique and differ-
ent for women, tailored to meet their specific developmental needs” (p. 349), citing the
work of Vinnicombe and Singh (2003), whose research concluded that women-only
leadership training was “essential” for participants to develop both a stronger sense of
self and the beneficial relationships that are important to leadership effectiveness. In
addition, Hopkins et al. (2008) have emphasized the value of establishing professional
networks with other women. Gibson (2008) has described the importance of “develop-
mental relationships” that extend beyond one’s own workplace. Participants in the
WLDI repeatedly affirmed that such networks are vital in carrying them through chal-
lenging times on their own campuses.
Fourth, emerging leaders benefit from both internal and external validation of their
talents and an awareness of calling. Whether from a religious or nonreligious perspec-
tive of life, talents and strengths represent an innate part of who one is, reflecting an
internal source of the calling. Awareness of calling is viewed as conceptually overlap-
ping meaning and purpose, with beneficial results to individuals and organizations
(Hall & Chandler, 2005; Hunter, Dik, & Banning, 2010). Recent research suggests that
women and men discern their calling in different ways (Phillips, 2009) and have diver-
gent conceptions of career success. Nomination and acceptance to participate in the
WLDI was viewed by many participants as an affirmation of giftedness and a potential
indication of calling to more senior leadership roles, often with the goal of broader
service to the institution. Thus, creating venues and strategies for identifying and
affirming natural talent patterns can expand self-understanding that contributes to pre-
paring for more senior leadership.
Finally, the mentoring and shadowing experiences provided by the WLDI were
transformational experiences for many of the participants. Observing women carrying
out their senior leadership responsibilities caused many WLDI participants to affirm
that they, too, could be successful in such roles. Still, it is clear that a proactive
approach akin to executive coaching of high-potential individuals is needed. People
with positional power can target up-and-comers in opening opportunities such as
building bridges to contacts and groups, modeling transparency through sharing
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58 Advances in Developing Human Resources 14(1)
information as appropriate, and involving emerging leaders in professionally broad-
ening opportunities such as strategic planning, organization-wide task forces, and
professional associations.
Higher education faces a wide array of internal and external pressures related to
current economic realities, trends in globalization and the expansion of technol-
ogy, and issues related to access and affordability for an increasingly diverse stu-
dent population. Preparing the next generation of leaders for colleges and
universities is imperative, yet only modest efforts have been made to expand the
potential pool of well-qualified candidates by providing leadership development
programs that target women. In that regard, Rita Bornstein (2008), an experienced
college president, has expressed concern that “. . . progress is slow, tenuous, and
limited by the intractability of gendered organizational structures, perspectives,
and expectations” (p. 162).
In the face of these challenges, HRD professionals have the opportunity and respon-
sibility of advocating for leadership development that intentionally opens opportuni-
ties for women. Further research is needed regarding what motivates women and men
to move into senior leadership roles—and to what extent those motivators differ in
ways related to gender. In addition, the sources of encouragement and discouragement
as women begin moving into leadership roles are only now being researched. Clearly,
much of what is known has implications for HRD. O’Neil and Bilimoria (2005), for
example, have emphasized,
Better organizational efforts are needed to ensure that women receive ongoing
coaching and mentoring, work for managers who support their development,
have access to organizational resources and opportunities to develop their skills,
are given challenging assignments, are acknowledged for their unique talents,
and are recognized for aptitude learned through life experiences and “nontradi-
tional” work histories. (p. 168)
Well-designed and targeted strategies for women’s leadership development can
bring exponential benefits not only by expanding the pool of gifted individuals to meet
today’s current leadership challenges but also by providing role models for future
generations of leadership.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
this article.
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Karen A. Longman is Professor of Higher Education at Azusa Pacific University, working with
90+ students in APU’s EdD and PhD programs in Higher Education. She previously served for
six years as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at Greenville College
(IL) and for 19 years as Vice President for Professional Development and Research at the
Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, based in Washington, D.C.
Shawna L. Lafreniere is an Assistant Professor and the Director of Assessment at Azusa Pacific
University. Lafreniere teaches undergraduate and graduate leadership courses and is passionate
about issues of gender and leadership. She has been nominated twice as one of Canada’s “Top
40, Under 40” leaders and her dissertation research focused on analyzing gendered perceptions
of characteristics that make leaders ideal for Christian higher education.
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