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Predictable - and surprising-- factors influencing women's participation in political leadership

Article in Leadership Quarterly examines what variables result in the emergence of women political leaders.Whether or not women in a given country hold positions of leadership obviously depends on a host of factors.

Dr. Bullough, who earned her PhD in Management and International Business at FIU in 2008 and is now an assistant professor at Thunderbird University, studied the various factors that affect women's participation in politics and business around the world. But no one ever took on the huge project of studying those factors worldwide until Amanda Bullough, then a doctoral student at Florida International University (FIU), made that the subject of her dissertation.

The results of her study concerning the political leadership are featured in an article entitled "Women's political leadership participation around the world: An institutional analysis" which appears in a recent issue of Leadership Quarterly, an international journal of political, social and behavior sciences.

The second author on the article is Professor Galen Kroeck, PhD, chair of the Department of Management and International Business and a member of the Academic Advisory Board for FIU's Center for Leadership. Senior level advisors on the project were William Newburry, Sumit K. Kundu and Kevin B. Lowe.

"Using extensive research and numerous data bases, Amanda came up with measures of political leadership for her 88-country study and divided women's participation into four levels to see how many women currently serve in each role," says Dr. Kroeck. "She then looked at literally hundreds of variables, everything from government regulations to cell phone usage, to see which, if any, predicted women's level of participation." 

Dr. Bullough and her team studied countries during the years 2002-2007. Variables studied included items in business environment, societal development, economics, technology and physical infrastructure, political climate and culture.

"We found that public spending on education is a society's first line of defense to begin equalizing opportunities for men and women early on," Dr. Bullough reports.

"As women become more educated, they become exposed to new ideas and find greater independence from new skills sets, which present more options beyond home and family."

A country's stage of economic development was found to be critically important, as shown by the positive relationship between GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita and the achievement of women in political leadership. Simply put, as the economy prospers, women become more involved in leadership.

This particular study was of great interest to program developers and researchers at the FIU Center for Leadership, where the "Women on the Move" leadership development program provides women from around the world with the necessary skill sets and insights to seek ever-increasing leadership roles. "These findings offer specific substantiation for what we already know, that education matters," reports Dr. Mayra Beers, Director of the Center. "Providing leadership education and development opportunities for women is vital to the progress of women as leaders of industry, community and civic involvement."

Some results in the study were surprising.

"Cultural norms play a huge role in the freedom and advancement of women and it's clear that the national culture explains as much of the variance in women's participation in political leadership as all of the other factors combined," Dr. Bullough reports.

Indeed, the role of families in whether or not women enter leadership roles is crucial. Even if other factors are present that would encourage women to seek leadership roles, how the families regard women who direct their efforts outside the family, has a significant impact on whether or not women are likely to pursue significant leadership roles.

"Growing up I saw both parents as role models. My mother and father were business owners and it showed me the power of hard work irrespective of gender," comments Margaret Brisbane, assistant Information Technology Director at Miami-Dade County. "Their attitude and support was crucial to my understanding that I could seek advancement in the world."

"Now, that influence continues," she says.

"My daughter saw me work to earn my master's degree when she was in middle school and that had a profound effect on her."

I was already in a leadership role professionally but she understood the value I place on education and what that could mean to her opportunities for the future. She went on to earn her law degree."

Findings on the role of collectivism particularly intrigued Dr. Kroeck. "Societies where individualism is not encouraged tend to not produce women who work toward leadership roles," he says.

Dr. Bullough's work may help government and planning leaders determine how to more actively cultivate an environment where women see leadership roles as a viable option.

"There is a slight gender gap still in existence in this country," says Ms. Brisbane. "Women have made significant strides, especially those who have learned how to promote and market themselves. But it's interesting to look more closely at the many factors that can influence our success."
To read the complete Leadership Quarterly article click here.