AECT Faculty to Research Barriers for Women in Leadership Positions in Agriculture Industry

Kelly Chaney, president of the Women's Giving Circle, presents a check to Casandra Cox (middle) and Hanna Estes (right), both AECT instructors, accepting funding from the Women's Giving Circle to fund their project titled "Navigating Leadership Paths: The Stories of Diverse and Successful Leaders."
University Relations

Kelly Chaney, president of the Women's Giving Circle, presents a check to Casandra Cox (middle) and Hanna Estes (right), both AECT instructors, accepting funding from the Women's Giving Circle to fund their project titled "Navigating Leadership Paths: The Stories of Diverse and Successful Leaders."

Three faculty members within the Agricultural Education, Communications and Technology Department at the U of A received a grant from the Women's Giving Circle (WGC) to begin work on a project to assess the experiences and barriers of female leaders within agriculture.

Hanna Estes and Casandra Cox, both instructors within the department, as well as Jill Rucker, associate professor in AECT, are collaborating on the project, which is titled "Navigating Leadership Paths: The Stories of Diverse and Successful Leaders."

The number of women in leadership positions is steadily increasing, which has allowed for a greater understanding of the barriers and bias they face, according to Cox.

"Numerous studies have identified areas that present challenges to advancement for women, including bias, stereotypes and lack of support," Cox said. "What is yet unclear is the degree to which these experiences compare with those of another gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation."

Estes, project coordinator, said that the project is designed to bridge this gap in research. The project committee plans to evaluate the experiences of women leaders in Fortune 500 companies, regardless of personal characteristics such as race and gender.

"We have a list of women in the agriculture industry that we are going to begin sitting down and talking with to capture their stories," Rucker said. "Then we'll catapult into analyzing the stories that we collect and start developing a curriculum that cultivates critical conversations that we can have in the classroom and among student groups and organizations."

After data is collected and analyzed, the project committee is planning to work with the U of A Career Development Center (CDC) and the U of A Center for Multicultural and Diversity Education (CMDE) to create learning modules that support career readiness for students.

"This project will focus on three primary outcomes. The first desired outcome is a successful mentorship experience between two graduate student mentors and three undergraduate researchers," Cox said. "Next, this project seeks to extract a minimum of three case studies for use in U of A agricultural leadership courses."

The third outcome for the project is to create three self-paced professional development modules, Cox said. These modules will be shared with young professionals through current professional development courses, as well as the CDC and the CMDE.

The Women's Giving Circle issued a grant of $4,310 to carry out the project. Applicants had to go through three rounds of preliminary voting, which included an application, a video summary of the project and a live presentation.

"The WGC is an organization that supports women and children in the state of Arkansas. It is typically made up of University of Arkansas alums, friends, faculty and staff," Rucker said. "Every year the WGC sponsors a grant awards program where faculty members can pick ideas for projects. One of the group's funding priorities is that the grant project should enrich the quality of life of women and children."

Rucker stated that the Women's Giving Circle looks to fund projects that not only benefit women and children in the community, but will be sustainable and have an impact in the lives of others, even after the grant money has been used.

Students can be involved with this project in multiple ways, Estes said. The project committee wants to find students at the graduate and undergraduate level to assist in the research process.

"Students are our future leaders," Estes said. "By engaging in the critical conversations and learning materials to follow this study, students can become equipped to overcome potential barriers to advancement in the workplace."


Alana Coleman, ELL communications specialist
Agricultural Education, Communications and Technology


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