Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Contemporary Rural Social Work Journal




This study investigates women’s experiences as they ascended to leadership roles in nonprofit organizations in rural communities, primarily in East Texas. The aim of this study is to understand the lived experiences of women in top management as they ascend into leadership positions, as the characteristics and experiences of effective leaders in rural nonprofits may differ from those of urban nonprofit agencies. There is limited research regarding women’s leadership experiences in rural nonprofit organizations. Using a phenomenological inquiry approach, we interviewed 32 women currently serving in leadership roles in rural nonprofit organizations. The research question guiding this phenomenological study was: What are female leaders’ lived experiences as they ascend to leadership positions? The interviews were audio recorded and professionally transcribed. Grounded theory approach was used to analyze the data. A total of 155 emergent themes were extracted by triangulation. After the major themes were extracted, 17 selective themes were identified based on leadership. The selective themes were condensed to three themes: 1) Leadership ascension, with six sub-themes of experience, micro-aggression, support, mentoring, training, and networking; 2) Leadership attributes; and 3) Leadership longevity. Despite the small number of participants, this in-depth study highlights the lived experiences of women leaders, providing a platform for further exploration into these experiences, especially in rural settings. Women in this study did not have an intentional leadership trajectory but rather were promoted within the organization. We found that gender impacts women’s leadership experiences. We also found that relational leadership styles in rural communities makes a difference for career longevity, and women consider honesty, compassion, integrity, self-awareness, and being a people person to be leadership attributes.






Carbajal, Jose; Bailey-Wallace, Kristin; Sharma, Bonita B.; Bice-Wigington, Tiffany; Cordova, Wilma; Scott, Shanta; and Cordeiro Dutra, Aparecida de Fatima (2019) "Women Ascending to Leadership Positions in Rural Nonprofit Organizations," Contemporary Rural Social Work Journal: Vol. 11 : No. 1 , Article 14. Available at:

Included in

Social Work Commons



Tell us how this article helped you.