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Women in the nonprofit sector: Leadership for social change

Lucille Martin Pritchard, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The purpose of this study was to examine the characteristics and behavior of women who are functioning in visible leadership roles in a nonprofit sector organization in order to document the effectiveness of their leadership as measured by the outcomes they achieve. The study population included thirty-eight women who were Executive Directors or Chief Executive Officers in Mental Health Associations (MHA's) in the United States. The study was intended to provide a better understanding of the leadership aspirations, styles and achievements of women who work within the context of an organization dedicated to social change for people with mental illnesses. The study was guided by the following research questions: (1) What were the influences in the lives of the women that led them to work for an organization focused on pursuing social justice for persons with mental illnesses (i.e., family background, education, history of mental illness in self or family, role models)? (2) What do participants see as the essential components of leadership? (3) How do the participants asses their own leadership outcomes in the context of their employment with the Mental Health Association? (4) What were the leadership behaviors and strategies used by the participants and to what extent did they use collective power to accomplish their organization's goals? The research was conducted as a descriptive case study utilizing qualitative methods including a participant profile. A particular emphasis was made to include leaders who are women of color and leaders who are consumers of mental health services in the study. The study found that study participants generally viewed leadership as nonhierarchical and often saw themselves as a catalyst or facilitator who enabled others to act collectively toward the accomplishment the mission and goals of the Mental Health Association. The study is a partial replication of a study developed by Helen Astin and Carole Leland in 1991 (Women of influence, women of vision. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass) which focused on understanding the dynamics of leadership used by female leaders in the women's movement of the 1970's and 1980's. This study supported the findings of Astin and Leland in their initial study.

Subject Area

Womens studies|Management

Recommended Citation

Pritchard, Lucille Martin, "Women in the nonprofit sector: Leadership for social change" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9960782.