We identified leadership self-efficacy as an empirically supported target for an intervention to increase women's participation and advancement in academic STEMM. To this end, we developed an educational intervention in the form of a semester course for women early in academic STEMM careers. We used the transtheoretical model (TTM) to evaluate the course's impact on participants’ beliefs about their own leadership abilities and the translation of those evolving beliefs into action. TTM proved to be a useful framework for our evaluation due to the centrality of self-efficacy in the model. Although this “stages of change” model was initially applied to individual smokers as they progressed to becoming nonsmokers, Prochaska found it useful in conceptualizing and promoting institutional change (Prochaska et al., 2001
) and subsequently used TTM to assess institutional readiness to advance women scientists (Prochaska et al., 2006
). Our work finds that this model also provides a useful framework for assessing leadership self-efficacy in individual women in STEMM. In addition to self-efficacy, the five stages of change and the accompanying 10 processes of change provided a rich context for examining the impact of the course.
Quantitative analyses of differences between pre/post survey scores for all measures were significant. The significant increase in scores for leadership self-efficacy, in particular, provides direct support for the course's positive impact on course participants’ confidence and competence for leadership (McCormick et al., 2002
). Because high domain-specific self-efficacy beliefs predict career interest and help to bolster career persistence (Hackett and Betz, 1981
; Betz and Hackett, 1986
; Betz and Voyten, 1997
; Brown and Brooks, 1996
; Lent et al., 1996
; Bandura et al., 2001
), this intervention's apparent success in improving women's leadership self-efficacy may increase the likelihood that participants will pursue leadership opportunities and work harder to achieve their leadership goals. In addition to increased leadership self-efficacy, the increase in participants’ self-esteem scores is relevant in that individuals with high self-esteem may be more likely to pursue leadership roles (Linimon et al., 1984
). The significant pre/post increase in personal mastery and decrease in perceived constraints for course participants supports movement of course participants toward engaging confidently in new leadership behaviors. Interpreted within the TTM's framework, results from all quantitative measures provide evidence that the course helped facilitate course participants’ preparation to engage in leadership behavior by building their self-efficacy beliefs for leadership, increasing their sense of personal value, decreasing their perceptions of barriers to leadership, and increasing their feelings of personal mastery for effective leadership.
Although not all class participants showed posttest scores in the desired direction, we have no compelling evidence that the class caused harm. As we continue to gather data from subsequent classes, we may be able to determine if there are any predictors of who will benefit most from the course.
Results from the qualitative analysis of course participants’ journals provided a window into the content of their thought processes as they progressed through the course, and also helped to identify which course activities were most influential in modifying their beliefs about their abilities for leadership. We were gratified to find that course participants often specifically cited the research discussed in class in their reflections. This suggests that our attempts to make the course participants “bias literate” were successful and supports the premise that literacy is a prerequisite to action in addressing the impact of stereotypes (Sevo and Chubin, 2008
). The course participants’ statements repeatedly illustrated how their newfound literacy enabled them to recognize implicit gender bias, including their own. As one student noted: “once you see it, you can never go back.” The course participants’ narratives also reflected a reconceptualization of leadership, as many learned to recognize the incongruence between implicit assumptions about leaders and actual effective leadership. This realization frequently permitted the course participants to see themselves as leaders.
Stereotypic threat is a construct with which the course participants clearly identified. Of the multiple bias constructs named throughout the readings and class discussions, stereotype threat was mentioned by name most often in the journal text. Course participants could describe specific instances in which they had experienced it and how it felt. They seemed relieved to have a term to name what they had experienced and a scientifically validated external causal attribution for their discomfort or poor performance. Women in STEMM are bombarded daily by situational cues that subtly reinforce that leaders are men and women are subordinates (Burgess et al., 2012
). This course presented evidence for the root causes of these inaccurate, but powerful, messages and provided participants with tools to deconstruct them. This course also provided an “identity-safe” environment in which course participants could speak up, propose new behaviors, and obtain immediate feedback. The course exposed participants to successful women STEMM faculty on a personal level. Journals frequently included statements about how meaningful it was to hear the stories of the women chairs as well as the real-world practical suggestions and examples provided by the class instructors. In addition to the women chairs serving as positive role models for the course participants, interaction with such accomplished women may inoculate participants to the negative effects of gender stereotypes. For example, Stout et al.
found that female students’ self-concept benefited from contact with female experts and led to enhanced self-efficacy, domain identification, and commitment to career persistence (Stout et al., 2011
Course participants’ journals provided evidence that their self-efficacy beliefs for leadership were positively impacted by applying course information to their own life experiences. Specifically, journals documented course participants’ integration of evidence-based techniques to mitigate the impact of societal stereotypes into their own leadership practices. This technique subsequently seemed to positively influence course participants’ leadership self-efficacy beliefs and increase their engagement in leadership behavior. The follow-up statements more than a year after class suggest that at least some course participants are continuing to intentionally engage in leadership in different ways than they had before the course.
Overall quantitative and qualitative results supported the effectiveness of the course in improving women's leadership self-efficacy through bias literacy, invoking efficacy-building experiences (e.g., presentations and discussions, meeting role models; Brown, 1999
), and incorporating opportunities for deep and transformative learning (e.g., journaling, case studies). The limitations of our study include its location at a single institution and self-selection of course participants. Taken together, however, our data suggest that for the majority of early STEMM career women who take our course, the impact is positive and sustained. The impact has the potential to have a more pervasive impact as these women and subsequent cohorts take on leadership roles, help other women strategize about career negotiations, and disseminate what they have learned to male and female colleagues. As evidence of the potential for a broader impact, the course participant who indicated that she wrote for an NIH R01 grant because of her experience in the course informed us in follow-up that her proposal was funded. This success marks the launch of a future influential, bias-literate, woman leader in academic STEMM.