From Intent to Action: New Directions in Women and Leadership Research

Guest editors

Rita A. Gardiner

Liza Howe-Walsh


Despite extensive monitoring of women’s inclusion in leadership over the past 25 years by numerous research institutes (e.g. Pew Research Centre), consulting companies (e.g. Credit Suisse, Deloitte, EgonZehnder, Grant Thornton, KPMG, McKinsey), and agencies (e.g. Catalyst, European Institute for Gender Equality) along with burgeoning research (e.g. Abadi et al., 2020; Adler & Osland, 2016; Devnew et al., 2018; Elliot et al., 2019; Lyness & Grotto, 2018; Madsen, 2017; Mousa et al., 2021; Place & Vardeman-Winter, 2018; Storberg-Walker & Haber-Curran, 2017), real progress in equality has been very slow (Broadbridge & Mavin, 2016; Broadbridge & Simpson, 2011). Women continue to lag behind men in most areas of societal life outside of the home; for example, pay equity (Parker & Donnelly, 2020), board representation (Deloitte, 2021; Devnew et al., 2018; EgonZehnder, 2020), executive leadership (Catalyst, 2020), and political leadership (Ro, 2021; Tischner et al., 2021).  

Moreover, the strategies for the inclusion of women’s voices and greater participation in leadership roles have mostly benefited middle-class white women (Deloitte, 2021). Black, indigenous, and women of colour have not benefitted from these strategies (Miles Nash & Peters, 2020); for example, 

  • Mandated quotas and monitoring for boards (see Deloitte, 2021 white women replacing white men and EgonZehnder, 2020 very little data on racial, ethnic, and sexual orientation diversity and prohibited to be collected in some countries); 
  • Anti-discrimination laws that do not eliminate unconscious gender, ethnic and racial biases (Derks et al., 2016; Forsyth et al., 1997; Fox-Kirk et al., 2020; Howe-Walsh & Turnbull, 2016); and 
  • Gender pay equity laws that do not result in equity for all genders, races, religion, sexual orientation (Lyness & Grotto, 2018; Parker & Donnelly, 2020). 

The women and leadership literature has demonstrated that stereotypes of women are racialized and impact these statistics. For example, the angry Black woman, the submissive Asian woman, the sexy Hispanic/Latina woman and the invisible Indigenous woman (Williams & Dempsey, 2014). Thus, a one size fits all approach is inappropriate; every aspect of leadership is intersectional (Crenshaw, 1989; Miles et al., 2020; Ngunjiri & Gardiner, 2019; Storberg-Walker & Gardiner, 2017), including (but not exclusively) aspirations for leadership (Devnew, Austin, Le Ber, & Shapiro, 2017), networking (Forett & Dougherty, 2004; Hart, 2019; Uzzi, 2019), risk-taking (Booth & Nolen, 2012), volubility (Brescoll, 2012), and self-promotion (Lindeman et al., 2018; Rudman, 2018). 

Critical feminism elucidates the ways in which power dynamics and gender injustices are at the very heart of discrimination and inequities (Gardiner, 2018; Ladkin, 2020) and offers new perspectives on women and leadership. Similarly, action/actionable research “disrupts the dominant system’s patriarchal narrative and its embedded power structure through the inclusion of the [often] marginalized voices of those being studied” (Thompson, 2021).  

Traditional quantitative methods, even if rigorous and relevant, have not been sufficient to move women into leadership (Storberg-Walker & Haber-Curran, 2017). Nor have traditional qualitative methods necessarily produced actionable research (see for example Paluck, 2010). New methodologies to study women and leadership that include practice/practitioners in every aspect of research from developing a meaningful research focus (research question in some disciplines) and setting the context for the research to conducting and analyzing the research and to disseminating its results through civic engagement and dialog (Madsen, 2021) is being encouraged in this SI. Action research which uses a “process that collaboratively involves the subjects under study with an objective of using research results to influence organizational outcomes” (Zhang et al., 2015, p. 152) is a promising approach to women and leadership that is aligned with the recognition of women’s ways of knowing (Storberg-Walker, 2017; Belenky et al., 1986), global women leaders (Adler, 1997; Adler & Osland, 2016; Osland, 2021), indigenous women and decolonizing leadership (Brunette-Debassige, 2021; Debassige & Brunette-Debassige, 2018), and on the contextual challenges faced by black women in diverse leadership roles (Ngunjiri, 2021).  

Genesis of Special Issue 

The idea for this special issue emerged from the planning of an international women and leadership academic colloquium held in June 2021. The special issue will focus on the theme “From Intent to Acton,” and illustrate the ways in which new global scholarship is emerging that is intent to advance scholarship in diverse fields related to women and leadership (Gardiner et al., 2020). It is anticipated that this special issue will not only highlight new approaches to key themes in women and leadership but also highlight approaches that are intentionally designed for actionable results for women in leadership. 

Despite decades of feminist scholarship, Broadbridge & Simpson (2011) maintain that gender and management research is still marginalized. A decade later this marginalization continues, especially when intersectionality is considered. Hence, we not only seek to understand diverse women’s experiences in organizations, but also challenge the ongoing marginalization of women's voices in organizational life.  

The depth and breadth of this special issue comes from an action-oriented approach to mobilizing knowledge on an international scale. What makes this SI original is its focus on diverse methodological and theoretical approaches to actionable research. From collaborative autoethnography and other action/actionable research (Chang et al., Ngunjiri, & Hernandez, 2013; Devnew, Austin, Le Ber, LaValley et al., 2017; Le Ber et al., 2017) and engaged scholarship (Van de Ven, 2007) to critical feminism (Gardiner, 2018; Gardiner et al., 2020), the aim of the SI is to encourage new approaches to key issues in women and leadership research with an international and intersectional focus.  

Special issue topics

To explore innovative research, both methodologically and theoretically, that advances our knowledge about women and leadership. The themes included (but not exclusively) are:  

  • Global mobility 
  • Structural inequities 
  • Critical feminism 
  • Power and politics  
  • Intersectionality 
  • Collaborative leadership 

- To develop actionable research results, in the practices of leadership by women, that are formed and informed by the co-creation of knowledge (practitioners and scholars) and a deep understanding of different ways of knowing. 

- To Inform equity, diversity and inclusion as well as decolonization learning/teaching through the examples of the intentional co-creation of knowledge, inclusive ways of knowing in research, and the resulting actionable results.  

We invite papers that seek to explore the intersectional realities of women and leadership from different theoretical and methodological perspectives. In particular, we welcome papers that demonstrate actionable research in its variety of forms so as to enhance not only theoretical insights but also leadership organization and managerial practices. The intent is to provide a fora for co-created knowledges to emerge, enabling scholars and practitioners to advance leadership by a diversity of women.  

Deadline and Submission Details 

The submission deadline for all papers to this special issue of Gender in Management: An International Journal is: MARCH 25, 2022. 

Submissions are made using ScholarOne Manuscripts. Registration and access are available at: 

Author guidelines must be strictly followed. Please see: 

Initial inquiries should be made to the lead guest editor of this special issue:

Marlene Janzen Le Ber- [email protected] 


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