The effects of the American Council on Education's women's leadership forums on women leaders in higher education



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Women comprise an ever-increasing segment of the student population in higher education, but the leadership does not reflect the changing demographics. Data from 2014 showed women as constituting 57% of the student population at institutions of higher education, whereas, women comprised 26% of the presidents in 2011. The lack of representation of women in leadership positions is a serious issue because those who are in leadership positions are the ones who wield the power to create change. Working to counteract this issue, several organizations have established leadership development programs specifically for women. The mixed methods sequential explanatory study examined the influence and impact of a women’s leadership development program on women leaders. Of specific interest in this study were the effects of a women’s leadership development program on women leaders’ career progressions, leadership self-efficacy (LSE), and entrepreneurial, professional, and leadership (EPL) motivations. The American Council on Education’s (ACE) national and regional women’s leadership forums were the leadership development programs of focus for the study.
Results from the study included a significant difference in average LSE scores between attendees of the ACE forums and non-attendees, but there was no significant effect of the ACE forums on EPL motivations. LSE significantly predicted leadership motivations. The qualitative data analysis revealed that participants experienced an influence of networking, an influence of seeing others’ career paths, and a lack of influence on their own career paths. Additionally, they experienced an increase in leadership self-efficacy (LSE), no influence on entrepreneurial motivation, an influence on professional motivation, and no influence on leadership motivation. The findings of this study produced the following implications for higher education. The first implication is the ACE forums influenced attendees’ leadership self-efficacy (LSE). The second implication is LSE predicted leadership motivations. The third implication is a lack of influence from the ACE forums on participants’ career paths. The fourth implication is a lack of influence from the forums on participants’ leadership motivations.
The findings of this study support the following recommendations for higher education. The first recommendation based on the findings of this study is for institutions of higher education to provide more opportunities for women to participate in leadership development programs. The second recommendation is institutions of higher education should provide more opportunities for women to increase their LSE. The third recommendation is ACE’s women’s leadership forums should be reexamined in order to determine how best to impact participants’ career progressions. The fourth recommendation is women’s leadership development programs should be modified to include factors that increase participants’ leadership motivations. From this research study, several recommendations for future research have become apparent. First, the quantitative phase of this study should be replicated with larger sample sizes for national and regional women’s leadership forum participants and for non-attendees in order for results to be more generalizable. A second recommendation for future research is to use the LSE scale and work in coordination with ACE to conduct a pre- and post-test in order to compare any differences in LSE. A third recommendation is for a longitudinal study to follow-up with ACE forum participants three years, five years, and ten years post-forum in order to determine the forum’s impact on career paths. A fourth recommendation is to conduct a collective case study, utilizing a maximum variation sampling design, (Creswell, 2014) that compares the perceptions of ACE forum attendees with individuals who have not attended any leadership development program.



Women leaders, ACE