A Thematic Analysis of Leadership Qualities of Women Leaders in Technology: Viewed through Social Media

A Thematic Analysis of Leadership Qualities of Women Leaders in Technology: Viewed through Social Media

Laurie O. Campbell (University of Central Florida, USA), Joshua H. Truitt (University of Central Florida, USA), Christine P. Herlihy (University of Central Florida, USA) and Jarrad D. Plante (University of Central Florida, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch001
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There is known gender disparity and inequity of women leaders in technology and STEM fields. A rapid gender decline in these burgeoning fields has sparked a national renewed interest in purposefully attracting and mentoring more women to roles in technology leadership. The gender disparity is not only in attracting young women to consider a technology or STEM career but it is in women staying engaged once they choose a career in these areas. Efforts have been made to improve the sustainability of women in technology leadership roles. Books, articles, and manuscripts have been written, formal and informal meetings and corporate awareness programs have been conducted and mentorship programs abound to attract girls to consider technology as a career choice. Further, identifying women role models has been a strategy employed to promote gender awareness. Within the chapter, the qualitative content analysis study investigates four women roles models and identifies leadership characteristics of these known women leaders in technology. It answers the following questions: What are the leadership characteristics of known women role models in technology? What do these leaders value? How do their differences impact their leadership in the field? Finally, what have they identified as propelling them towards innovation and discovery?
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Women In Leadership

“In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders” (Sandberg, 2015). Sheryl Sandberg’s, COO of Facebook, words paint a picture of future times where leaders will not be defined by gender, rather their work and contributions as a leader will define them. In current culture, gender disparity in top-level leadership is evident and a continual concern as it has been in the past. Recruiting women to the highest level of leadership challenges organizational search committees trying to employ women as women are currently underrepresented in top positions of leadership.

Reasons for the lack of women in high ranking leadership positions extend beyond recruitment. Societal perceptions have been known to further the inequity. Historically, sociocultural perceptions include gender-based expectations and roles that contradict the idea of women in leadership positions (Eagly, 1987). The social resistances towards women as leaders are attributed to conflicting roles, societal norms, values, and power dynamics unconsciously or consciously by stereotypical reactions of others. Organizations and nations constantly struggle with accepting women as leaders who don’t fit traditional mores (Nanton, 2015). Another school of thought attributed the lack of females in fields of science and technology to the lack of role models in leadership positions in these fields.

The following chapter addresses the state of women in technology, the need for diverse female role models, and documents the analysis of evident strategic leadership characteristics of four known female technology leaders evidenced in their social media communications. Finally, while there is a paucity of research documenting the effects of female role models social media contributions influencing young women and girls to consider being a leader in STEM, needs knowing how and what leadership qualities are portrayed through social media add to the literature base. Throughout the chapter references to STEM and technology and STEM leaders and technology leaders are used interchangeably, as STEM is inclusive of technology. The chapter specifically addresses technology role models as there is a greater deficit of females in technology, as compared to other fields of study in STEM.

Women in Leadership: STEM

The U.S. Department of Education defines STEM as the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. STEM fields are predominantly employed by males. The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011) states that females make up approximately 50% of the workforce, but less than one-third of those employed in STEM fields are women. Due to the gender inequity in STEM fields, women have difficulties finding female mentorship (Ashcraft & Blythe, 2009; Ashcraft, Eger, & Friend, 2012). A female STEM leader can serve as a role model, supporter, and advisor for other women in the pursuit of their leadership goals in STEM.

Women are clearly underrepresented in STEM and leadership positions in the academy as well as in business. According to National Science Foundation (NSF), only 31% of full-time faculty and 27% of department heads and deans are women meaning role models in higher education that often provide guidance to young people in career choices continue to represent a gender gap (Gorman, Durmowicz, Roskes, & Slattery, 2010). The lack of female mentorship and gender inequity in STEM is observed by all levels of society. Recruitment and mentorship programs among underrepresented populations have become a high grant funding priority to expand leadership opportunities in STEM fields.

President Obama (February 2013) stated, “One of the things that I really strongly believe in is that we need to have more girls interested in math, science, and engineering. We’ve got half the population that is way underrepresented in those fields and that means that we’ve got a whole bunch of talent…not being encouraged the way they need to.” The need for strategic leadership and role models to balance gender inequity in leadership especially in STEM fields is vital. The development of elite talent in STEM is crucial to the United States’ global leadership. The White House Council on Women and Girls in collaboration with The Office of Science and Technology are working to increase the engagement of girls.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Media Presence: Social media platforms are a means to establish a digital/online identity or presence. Social media websites are characterized by the ease of communication, the collaborative value and the communication level/type (e.g. words, images, amount of content). Communications through posts, reposts, or narrative contributes to the establishment of one’s social media presence.

Role Models: A role model is one whose actions can be emulated. Role models can be positive or negative examples that others may follow. Role models interactions with those that follow them may take place through media, online, or in a face to face environment. Interactions with role models may be passive or active.

Women in Technology (WIT): Women are an underrepresented in technology occupations. Women in technology include those were formally trained in a technology related field as well as those who are self-taught. WIT are inclusive of those who work on the artifacts of technology, those who educate in technological fields, and those who lead in technological project, processes, and companies. From the beginning of the recorded history of technology, women have been actively involved in technological pursuits.

Leadership: Leadership encompasses the act or process of leading. There are varying approaches to or styles of leadership including but not limited to servant, transactional, transformational, laissez-faire, authoritative, and participative. The characteristics or qualities which comprise a good leader and role model have been highly debated, and “there are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define it” ( Bass, 1990 , p. 11).

Role Model Interactions: Byrne’s (1989) determined that there are four levels of role modeling interaction: the passive role, the active role, the implicit role, and explicit mentorship. They have limited interactions with their followers. Explicit mentorship is the highest level and requires interaction between the role model or mentor and the mentee. Passive role models are visible in society like a celebrity, media star, or athlete.

STEM: STEM is a widely used acronym representing the following fields of study: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. With a desire to be a global leader in discovery and technology, federal funding and research for innovative and effective STEM programs proliferate. Women and minorities are typically underrepresented in STEM.

Technology: Borrowing the National Committee on Technological Literacy definition of technology, technology is more than computers, digital devices, and machines. Technology includes a body of knowledge, people, processes, and skills involved in the design, creation, and modification of the natural state of the world. “In its broadest sense, technology is the process by which humans modify nature to meet their needs and wants” ( Pearson & Young, 2002 , p. 2).

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