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Women of Influence, Women of Vision: A Cross-Generational Study of Leaders and Social Change

1991 by Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 350 Sansome Street, San Francisco, California 94104

Written by: Helen S. Astin & Carole Leland

Women of Influence, Women of Vision gives voice to women in both positional and not positional leadership roles by bringing to light their stories and experiences beginning in the 1940’s through the first two decades of the modern women’s movement in the United States. The purpose is to break away from early models of leadership that often described leadership from a positional lens, and instead begin to identify the outcomes of leadership through the social changes on behalf of women. The book breaks down the women into three generational cohorts by “virtue of age and partially because of their experiences as leaders at particular periods of social history” (Astin & Leland, 1991, p.28).

The first generational cohort is the Predecessors; women who grew up during post-World War 1 and served as presidents of women’s colleges, dean of women, and other women targeted roles in education. These women often attended private schools and represented the educational elite. More often than not the Predecessors were the only women in their positions and displayed very similar leadership styles to their male peers, yet were still committed to women having equal access to education. The next cohort, referred to as the Instigators, are vastly different from the Predecessors and represent a group of women in the 1960s and 1970s, who challenged social structures and patriarchal systems through their work and research. This group of women, often referring to themselves as feminist, blended their values and professional aspirations during a time of heightened social injustices and the rise of several equal rights movements. In addition, Instigators bonded with other women who had similar values and interest which led to a more collective approach to leadership, since they were usually not they only female in their place of work like the Predecessors. The third and most recent cohort is known as the Inheritors, Astin and Leland (1991) describe this cohort as being the group most influenced by the cohort that came before them. Inheritors often had the opportunity to study, work and be inspired by Instigators. They valued their friendships with other women and were committed to the work of the mentors who came before them and as such would use strength based approaches to their leadership strategies.

Focusing on leadership in the education sphere, Women of Influence, Women of Vision breaks down the seventy-seven women leaders that where interviewed for the study in the aforementioned cohorts which allows the reader to see a clear connection between the historical context of the United States and the development of each cohort’s leadership style. Aside from societal and historical influences, the authors also provide insight into other outside forces (family, role models, etc.) that shape not only the involvement the women leaders’ had in leadership activities, but also their commitment to social justice.

The first half of the book provides the reader with a clear understanding of the framework used for the study, which was inspired by the 1983 Wingspread conference in Racine, Wisconsin attended by authors Helen Austin, a psychologist and professor of higher education at UCLA and Carole Leland, a senior program associate for the Center for Creative Leadership in San Diego. Moreover the first half of the book introduces the generational influences that formed and informed women leaders and their commitment to change and social justice. The second half of the book utilizes the voice and experiences of the women to 1. Analyze the triggering events that led to the outcomes of their leadership efforts. 2. Examine the dynamics of leadership and what strategies the women leaders took to create change. 3. Describe how one maintained self-care through the obstacles they faced and the cost leadership had on their lives. 4. Review the accomplishments of the women leaders in the more recent cohort which are largely attributed to the contributions of the women in the early cohorts. The book concludes with findings from the study and suggests implications for developing future cohorts of women leaders. The authors even go so far as to include resource materials and the proposal from the initial conference, the Wingspread Conference.

Unlike some previous works conducted on women and leadership, I appreciate the lens the authors chose for the book which puts the focus on the women and their experiences, rather than a comparison of women to men’s approaches in both positional and not positional leadership; providing a better understanding of leadership and the women’s movement in a way that causes a paradigm. A shift that causes those who read this book to be inspired by the historical legacy and sacrifices of the women who came before us and shaped our educational system.

This approach is very different from other leadership works and may appear as a short coming for those who read this book hoping to gain a better understanding of women in the context of leadership in the traditional sense. This book focuses more on providing the readers with a better understanding of social change feminist, their sacrifices, their successes, and their support networks. Women of Influence, Women of Vision is a must read for not only academic researchers and practioners with special interest in feminism, women’s movements, and leadership; but for anyone who works with women in the capacity of peers, mentors, students and staff on college campuses so that they may see “the enormous legacy these women have provided and will kindle or rekindle in each of us our own passions and visons on behalf of women and society.” (Astin & Leland, 1991, p. xvii)