Narratives of women's leadership identity development: an assessment of senior-level information technology (IT) leaders following participation in a women-only training program
Vinas, Keila L.
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Despite having made significant strides in the overall labor market, women continue to lag behind men at the senior and executive C-suite levels. The gap is even more striking in organizations within the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Although women-only leadership trainings have gained recent popularity as a strategy to address this, scholarship on the efficacy of such programs is still fairly scant. This study aimed to fill this gap in the research by looking into how graduates of such a program used the tools and knowledge gained during the training, to determine if and how it has impacted, in their view, their identity as leaders. Eighteen senior-level Information Technology (IT) leaders, graduates of the same in-house women-only leadership program were interviewed using a narrative inquiry approach. Data gathered during the interviews revealed which strategies participants put into practice, how they applied them, as well as the perceived outcomes that they derived. The narratives revealed women’s perspective of their leadership trajectory and their understanding of the training’s impact. Interviews were analyzed using content and thematic coding. Analysis of the participants’ accounts pointed to the training’s ability to facilitate leadership identity development through the following means: (1) the promotion of practical skills, (2) increased self-awareness and realization of others’ perceptions, (3) feeling a sense of belonging and connectedness, and (4) feeling recognized and empowered. It was also clear that context plays a significant role on the impact that the training can have. Three themes related to this emerged; (1) the availability of advocates, (2) executive visibility, and (3) fit with the organization’s leadership culture and ability to lead authentically. Participants’ stories also revealed the ways in which the training affected their ability to deal with a male-dominated organization, which ultimately depended on how much of an effect they believed that being a woman has on their workplace experience. Findings suggest that women-only leadership trainings can have a positive impact on senior-level leaders’ leadership identity, yet careful consideration must be paid to the contextual factors identified. Findings also provided concrete evidence pointing to the perceived effectiveness of specific program components.