Women and Leadership Initiative

Sponsored Research

Research & Support

USF faculty who apply their expertise to research regarding gender issues are eligible for financial support courtesy of the Women and Leadership Initiative. Two research projects are funded each academic year.


The Women of Color Leading Florida's Green Economy

The World Economic Forum predicts many impactful and likely dangers to the economy hinge on our failure to address environmental inequities. In Florida, economic risk is even more acute. In the last 15 years, Southwest Florida weathered multi-year economic downturns threatening each of the UN’s triple-bottom lines: 2007-2009 Great Recession (prosperity), 2017-2019 Red Tide (planet), and 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic (people). Sustainable business solutions remain grounded in the same principles that created the risks: a failure to integrate diverse economic, social, and environmental value systems. However, the leadership approaches of women of color often draw from inclusive economics, feminist co-mentoring techniques, and anti-extractivist principles. At its heart, this research demonstrates how the leadership of women of color in Florida’s sustainable enterprises can also be used as a positive economic tipping point, harnessing the growth of the Green Economy in ways that support a more diverse workforce from entry-level to board representation.

This research establishes the ways women of color mobilize new leadership approaches to righting the nexus of equality, viability, and quality of life. This research connects issues of systemic racism and gender bias in our economy with broader questions about an equitable future for Florida. It starts with transferrable questions about the nature of the advancement of women of color in business and grounds them in the pressures and constraints of an economic hotspot facing multiple, urgent socio-environmental threats. 

This research project is led by Heather O'Leary, and is supported by a WALI grant of $5,000.

Homophily among Underrepresented Entrepreneurs in the U.S.A Closer Look at Female Lead Black Start-ups

The contribution of minorities to the United States’ national economy through entrepreneurship is often argued as important, but yet poorly understood. Surprisingly absent is a comprehensive literature synthesizing knowledge around Black female entrepreneurship. Instead, research on minority entrepreneurs has historically focused on the community embeddedness of ethnic entrepreneurs across various specific locations. As a result, this research takes a closer look at the underrepresented nascent entrepreneurs by drawing on the Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics (PSED), a longitudinal U.S. nationally representative sample of startups tracked over six years (N= 2,044), and examine the factors that either inhibit or enhance the probability of creating a new firm among those actively involved in the startup process – with special attention paid to the factors specifically uniquely affecting Black female nascent entrepreneurs as they try to create a new firm.

Little theory and research have focused on the factors affecting the performance of underrepresented entrepreneurial organizations, particularly startups lead by Black women. Therefore, my goal is to understand what factors uniquely affect female Black nascent entrepreneurs informed by Upper Echelon Theory (UET). UET is based on the idea that to better understand an organization, one must understand the organization’s leaders and decision-makers, or its top management team (TMT) and the TMT structure. UET rests on two assumptions: (1) top managers of a firm all act as a team because they are behaviorally integrated; and (2) top managers have alternatives to work with, giving them managerial discretion. Accordingly, UET partially predicts firm outcomes from the background characteristics of TMTs members since they view strategic choices through lenses shaped by their own attributes.

This research project is led by Diana M. Hechavarria, and is supported by a WALI grant of $5,000.

Past Academic Years

Advantages and challenges for women rising into leadership

Having more female executive leaders is associated with better organizational performance (Post & Byron, 2015); however, women are under-represented (merely 6%) in C-suites (Eagly & Carli, 2007). Although women, relative to men, tend to be more effective as middle-level leaders (Eagly, 2007; Eagly, Karau, & Makhijiani, 1995), many organizations offer limited middle-level leadership opportunities to qualified women. Helping women rise into leadership not only enables organizations to realize their full potential and achieve their competitiveness, but also enables women to realize their human potential and achieve their aspirations. 

This research project is led by Dejun "Tony" Kong.

A growth mindset intervention for female leaders in male-dominated organizations

Although women are generally rated as more effective leaders than men (PaustianUnderdahl et al., 2014), they nevertheless tend to encounter more barriers than men do (e.g.,
Blau & DeVaro, 2007), especially in male-dominated (i.e., ≥ 75% male) organizations. Most
people, either implicitly or explicitly, perceive incongruity between the qualities of being female
and the demands of being a leader (Eagly & Karau, 2002). A consequence of the belief that there is a tension between being a woman and being a leader is that women come to doubt their own fitness for leadership roles. This doubt subsequently impacts female leaders’ persistence through adversity and pursuit of more senior leader positions as they advance in their careers (Macias, Steele, Jorgenson, & Arvan, 2020).

To address the self-doubt evident among female leaders, one must first believe that
leadership is a learnable skill (Day & Dragoni, 2015) that is equally accessible by men and
women. To foster the adoption of these beliefs, we propose an intervention based on Dweck’s
seminal work on implicit self-theories (Dweck, 2006). Dweck argues that people hold one of two
beliefs about a given attribute––it is something they can change about themselves (i.e., a growth mindset) or cannot change (i.e., a fixed mindset). Dozens of studies have found that these mindsets can be changed across a wide variety of domains, including intelligence, shyness, and willpower (O’Keefe et al., 2018). We suggest applying this approach to leadership.

We will recruit participants through the Society of Women Engineers. Participants will
be randomly assigned to one of two groups: leadership growth mindset or control. In the
leadership growth mindset group, participants will do the following: (a) read an article (written
by the authors of this proposal) describing how leadership is a learnable skill that anyone can
develop with practice, (b) write an example of an area of leadership in which they have seen
personal improvement, and (c) write a letter encouraging someone in the future who is struggling as a leader (Yeager et al., 2016). Before and after the intervention, participants in both groups will complete daily diaries containing measures of mood, wellbeing, identification as a leader, and engagement in leader behaviors. The cost of compensation will be as follows: 100 participants (50 in each condition) ! $50 = $5000.

This research project is led by Logan M. Steele and Kelsey Merlo

The Economic Impact of Domestic Violence

Partnering with Community Action Stops Abuse, researchers from the Muma College of Business analyzed local and national economic data on costs of medical care, emergency housing and lost wages as a result of domestic violence. They calculated and combined those figures with the 6,228 incidents of domestic violence that were reported in Pinellas County in 2017 – eight of which were fatalities – to end up with the overall figure. Read more

Work-Life Balance

Working women are increasingly faced with demands from managing a career and a family. Working couples regularly negotiate work-family responsibilities and make decisions. These negotiations/decisions are theoretically and practically meaningful, yet we have limited understanding of how these processes take place. Further, work-family decision-making is often regarded as a source of gender disparity in the workplace (e.g., Shockley & Shen, 2016; Allen et al., 2016). An understanding of how men and women’s negotiation experiences differ may shed light on why gender-laden work-family decisions emerge. The goal of this study is to understand the process of negotiating and decision-making between dual career couples. This is an inter-disciplinary project that attempts to incorporate innovative data analysis and visualization techniques to investigate the negotiation process of a work-family conflict at a fine-grained level.

This research project is led by Chris Chen, and is supported by a WALI grant of $7,500.

Led By:

Rebecca Harris

Rebecca Harris, PhD
Director, WALI Academic Programs and Research
(727) 873-4024