SHATTERING THE COLLEGIATE GLASS CEILING: UNDERSTANDING THE EXPERIENCES OF WOMEN STUDENT GOVERNMENT PRESIDENTS
Davis, Kristen Rupert
Griffin, Kimberly A
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In the last few decades, leadership skills have arisen as a core part of undergraduate education. The general outcomes associated with leadership skills in college include decision-making skills, increased cognitive complexity, and navigating group dynamics and relationship building (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). While leadership skills are derived from a variety of experiences on campus, positional leadership experiences help students develop concrete and specific outcomes associated with self-confidence, the development of a sense of competence higher levels of psychosocial development, a stronger ability to clarify their purpose in life, and greater aptitude for career planning and life management (Astin & Leland, 1991; Foubert & Grainger, 2006). In particular, serving as the president of a student organization has been associated with increased self-efficacy and growth in perceived leadership ability specifically for women (Bardou, Bryne, Pasternak, Perez, & Rainey, 2003; Dugan, 2006; H. S. Astin & Kent, 1983). However, women less likely to reap these gains, as they are less likely to take on positional leadership roles in college (Stevens, 2011). This is especially apparent in high-ranking leadership role like student government president. The purpose of this study was to better understand women college students’ journey to and through being a student government president, and whether and how gender and sexism influenced their presidential experiences. Case study methodology and a narrative approach to data collection was used to answer four research questions. Participant interviews garnered 5 themes including: (a) Systemic Issues of Diversity and Inclusion on Campus, (b) Catalysts, Influencing Factors, and the Impact of Identity on Running for Office, (c) Impact of Leadership Style, Assumed Biases, and External Feedback on Women Leaders, (d) External Expectations of Image and Presentation, and (e) Relationships with Administrators. Findings from this study suggest that more research on women in leadership in both college and in the workforce is necessary. They also suggest that administrators and campus community members need to be cognizant of bias and stereotypes when engaging with women student leaders. Lastly, findings indicate that issues of inclusion and diversity on campus impact how women engage in leadership roles on campus.