Advancing Women in Leadership: Three Perspectives, One Goal
Faculty are typically required to serve on university committees as part of their workload expectations. One university’s approach to supporting and fostering women in leadership was to create and financially fund a committee tasked with these efforts. The Advancing Women in Leadership (AWiL) committee at Concordia University Irvine (CUI) benefits from a mix of women in a range of roles to include faculty, staff, and administrators who work remotely and on campus. Committee members strategically represent a range of departments and schools from within the university at large. Taking a theory-to-practice approach, three members of AWiL combined individual leadership contexts and perspectives and worked together in support of larger goals and practical outputs.
Leadership contexts and perspectives
While AWiL committee’s goals do not directly center on research, each member brings to the group a theoretically grounded understanding of leadership as well as lived experiences as leaders. As a foundation for this theory-to-practice article, we will discuss three leadership theories: work/family border theory, servant leadership theory, and perceived organizational support.
Work/family border theory
Clark’s (2000) work/family border theory studies two systems people take part in: their family system and work system. The time and attention spent on each suggests work and home are “the two most significant domains in the life of a working individual” (Montgomery et al., 2005, p. 141). These realms used to be clearly delineated by a geographic border, but the influx of the digital age and remote working have blurred this border. Fortunately, there exist family-friendly workplaces to help employees navigate these different, but ever-important realms. UNICEF (2019) asserts that “not only do family-friendly policies pay off in healthier, better-educated children, greater gender equality and sustainable growth, they are linked to better workforce productivity and the ability to attract, motivate and retain employees” (para. 3). Concordia meets many qualifications of a family-friendly workplace. The AWiL committee provides programming and support to help members better fulfill their work and family obligations.
Servant leadership theory
Greenleaf’s (1970) seminal definition of servant leadership (SL) as reliant on leaders who prioritize the interests of others over their own has grown into an empirically measured leadership theory (Turner, 2022). The SL framework is useful for guiding internal workings and external programmatic outputs. Contemporary leadership implications are combined with theories and frameworks for the purpose of defining and then assessing effectiveness (Doyle & Swisher, 2021). The School of Education at Concordia embraces and actively practices SL, and one result is that other programs and schools have shown interest in adopting a similar approach to internal management as well as outfacing relationships with students and stakeholders. SL tenets have always been woven into AWiL committee efforts through events and initiatives aimed at serving other women, the university, and the community.
Perceived organizational support theory
Organizational support theory draws on social exchange theory (Blau, 1964) and the norm of reciprocity (Gouldner, 1960), contending that organizations that provide positive resources to employees will generate feelings of perceived organizational support (POS) that will then obligate employees to help the organization reach its goals through effort and loyalty (Eisenberger et al., 1986; Rhoades and Eisenberger, 2002; Kurtessis et al., 2017). Eisenberger et al. (1986) define POS as the employees’ “beliefs concerning the extent to which the organization values their contribution and cares about their well-being” (p. 501). While prior research has indicated that women in academia often report lower POS compared to their male colleagues (Longman et al., 2019; Longman & Lafreniere, 2012), women at CUI have reported feeling equally supported (Playter, 2023), which may be in part to AWiL’s efforts. Specifically, AWiL has given women a place to celebrate each other, share research and resources, and foster a community of service and support.
Shared goals and efforts
The AWiL committee gives members an opportunity to apply experience from unique leadership positions, draw on respective areas of leadership research, and collaborate to accomplish shared goals. The range of member departments and roles provides for rich dialogue and adds a level of importance to individual contributions. Some committee outputs have become tradition on campus and represent opportunities for the committee to focus efforts in established ways. Other forms of committee output are the result of brainstorming regarding internal or external challenges specific to the academic year. Below are three examples of AWiL outputs.
The annual women’s luncheon represents the penultimate event in terms of AWiL planning, budget, and effort. Traditionally, the luncheon is scheduled for March to coincide with Women’s History Month. The goal is to provide an opportunity, free of charge, for women associated with the university to relax, enjoy a meal, mingle, and hear an inspiring and motivational keynote presentation. The 2023 luncheon was held March 17 with a theme that combined the slogan “lucky to be a lady” with the joy associated with giving and receiving mentorship from other ladies. All year, the committee focused on mentorship, and the keynote address was titled “We Are All Mentors.” Luncheon attendees represented many departments, both faculty and staff, and even some students. Something the committee hopes to consider for the next luncheon is an avenue for including women from the extended community such as spouses and daughters. Another highlight of the event was providing a live streaming option. The committee continues to seek ways to make this event impactful and beneficial for women in any role.
AWiL has also created a podcast series celebrating women in the CUI community. AWiL committee members paired up to interview selected women leaders around campus to learn more about their role and vision, leadership journey, and personal anecdotes. Some of the selected leaders included the dean of students; the directors of the wellness, unity, and career centers; and the dean of the School of Education. There were more than a dozen podcasts released over two seasons. These began during the pandemic as a way for members of the CUI community to remain connected amid social distancing guidelines. Members of the CUI community received links to the podcasts, which are also available online.
A third output is AWiL’s goal of providing clear communication regarding resources available to CUI employees. Thanks to a variety of HR-related sources, CUI employees are offered self-care benefits (e.g., counseling), discounts (i.e., restaurants and services), and assistance with childcare services (with discussion of a potential child care center on campus). While many of these resources have been in effect for years, some as part of our benefit plans, better communicating these resources and instructions for accessing them has become a high priority for AWiL. Moreover, the group is passionate about providing additional programming surrounding work/family themes such as the aforementioned mentorship address, as well as self-care, maternity leave, and reentry.
In this theory-to-practice article, three AWiL members reflected on personal research interests, respective leadership experiences, and collaborative committee efforts. Three outputs were shared as evidence of one university’s approach. Indeed, three perspectives came together to exemplify one goal: supporting and advancing women in leadership.
Blau, P. M. (1964). Exchange and power in social life. Wiley.
Clark, S. (2000). Work/family border theory: A new theory of work/family balance. Human Relations, 53(6), 747–770. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726700536001
Doyle, L., & Swisher, J. L. (2021). Unity in the diaspora: An innovative application of a validated instrument to biblical text and contemporary implications for leaders. Journal of Biblical Perspectives in Leadership, 11(1), 92–103. https://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/jbpl/vol11no1/Vol11Iss1_JBPL_Full_Issue.pdf
Eisenberger, R., Huntington, R., Hutchison, S., & Sowa, D. (1986). Perceived organizational support. Journal of Applied Psychology, 71(3), 500–507. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.71.3.500
Greenleaf, R. K. (1970). The servant as leader (an essay). Greenleaf Organization.
Kurtessis, J. N., Eisenberger, R., Ford, M. T., Buffardi, L. C., Stewart, K. A., & Adis, C. S. (2017). Perceived organizational support: A meta-analytic evaluation of organizational support theory. Journal of Management, 43, 1854–1884. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206315575554
Longman, K. A., Drennan, A., Beam, J., & Marble, A. (2019). The secret sauce: How developmental relationships shape the leadership journeys of women leaders in Christian higher education. Christian Higher Education, 18(1–2), 54–77. https://doi.org/10.1080/15363759.2018.1547031
Longman, K. A., & Lafreniere, S. L. (2012). Moving beyond the stained glass ceiling: Preparing women for leadership in faith-based higher education. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 14(1), 45–61. https://doi.org/10.1177/1523422311427429
Playter, K. L. (2023). Leadership in Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) universities: An exploration of perceived organizational support and motivation to lead in relation to gender, marital status, and parental status (Publication No. 30417588) [Doctoral dissertation, Regent University]. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.
Rhoades, L., & Eisenberger, R. (2002). Perceived organizational support: A review of the literature. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 698–714. https://doi.org/10.1037//0021-9010.87.4.698
Turner, K. (2022). Servant leadership to support wellbeing in higher education teaching. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 46(7), 947–958. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2021.2023733
UNICEF. (2019).Redesigning the workplace to be family-friendly: What governments and businesses can do. https://www.unicef.org/early-childhood-development/family-friendly-policies
Lori B. Doyle, PhD, serves as associate professor, director of the master of arts in educational leadership program, and assistant director of the Servant Leadership Institute at Concordia University Irvine. Lori’s areas of research interest are adult education, online teaching pedagogy, servant leadership, biblical studies, and faculty mental health.
Kellie L. Playter, PhD, earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication from California State University Long Beach and her doctorate in organizational leadership from Regent University. She has served on nonprofit boards and taught college courses since 2008. She teaches classes that focus on workplace communication, professional writing, professional development skills, and career preparation.
Ashlie J. Andrew, PhD, is associate professor and program director for the organizational leadership program at Concordia University’s Townsend Institute. Her research interests include family communication and crisis management. She’s taught courses at both private and public schools. She enjoys Concordia because it combines her passion for teaching and leadership with Christianity.