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Public Policy and Administration


Karen L. Shafer


The issues women face and the policies that benefit women can be neglected by policy makers without women serving in the state legislature, yet little is understood about how influencing factors, characteristics and experiences shape political aspirations among women at the state level. Using feminist identity theory and feminist standpoint theory as the foundation, the purpose of this ethnographic study was to explore how female leaders develop their nascent political ambition and engage in the path to public office. Data were collected through interviews with 8 women who held office in a state legislature from 2012 through 2017. Interview data were transcribed, inductively coded, and subjected to thematic analysis to compile information on the leadership development of each female leader and to comparatively examine the paths to leadership. Key themes that emerged from the data included transformational experience, personality traits, and family being the top contributors to leadership development and nascent political ambition. Implications for positive social change stemming from this study include recommendations to leadership development programs to better understand the unique paths to leadership in state legislatures. Following this recommendation may increase the number of women contemplating a run for elected office, thereby contributing to a higher number of women in decision-€making roles.

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