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Tapping into the Leadership Conceptions of Undergraduate Women in Computing: A Mixed-Methods Study


Despite the great advances women have made in higher education, women remain underrepresented in both leadership positions and the computing major. After college, women are underrepresented across technical careers and especially in leadership positions. This study contends with these gender inequities by focusing on gender and the leadership conceptions of undergraduates in computing.

This study draws from standpoint theory, undergraduate socialization, and leadership identity development theory and utilizes a mixed-methods design to explore gender differences in how students rate and develop their leadership confidence as well as the ways women conceptualize leadership and make meaning of their leadership experiences. More specifically, this study utilizes longitudinal data from computing majors and minors who completed a pretest and follow-up survey as part of the BRAID Research project. Additionally, I conducted interviews with 12 women who were recruited from the larger quantitative sample.

Quantitative findings reveal gender inequities in how students conceptualize their leadership abilities, highlighting key family socialization agents, non-college experiences, and college environments that predict leadership outcomes. Additionally, qualitative findings reveal that women hold multifaceted but inconsistent definitions of leadership that reflect gender essentialist understandings of both leadership and the field of computing. Further, findings highlight the nature of how women experience sexism in group assignments. Taken together, these and other findings point to implications for future research on gender in STEM, theories of college student leadership development, and practices that may foster more equitable course environments that provide students with increased opportunities to develop their leadership and technical skills.

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