Developing a leadership identity: A case study exploring a select group of Hispanic women at a Hispanic serving institution

Suzanne M Onorato, Florida International University


Leadership is a socially constructed concept shaped by the context, values and experiences of society (Klenke, 1996); the historical context of gender and ethnicity in society affects views about leadership and who merits a leadership role. Therefore, developing an understanding of Hispanic women students’ leadership identity development is critical in broadening how we define leadership and develop leadership education. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore and describe the leadership identity development of a select group of women leaders at a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in the southeast. A psychosocial approach to the study was utilized. In-depth interviews and focus groups were conducted with 11 self-identified Hispanic women students of sophomore, junior or senior standing with varying degrees of involvement in leadership activities at Florida International University. Participants were asked questions related to four topics; (a) leadership, (b) gender, (c) ethnic identity, and (d) influences that contributed to their understanding of self as leader. Five topics emerged from the data presented by the participants’: (a) encouraging relationships, (b) meaningful experiences, (c) self development, (d) the role of gender, and (e) impact of ethnicity. These themes contributed to the leadership identity development of the participants. Findings indicate that leadership identity development for Hispanic women college students at this HSI is complex. The concept of leadership identity development presented in the literature was challenged as findings indicate that the participants’ experiences living and attending a school in a majority-minority city influenced their development of a leadership identity. The data indicate that leadership is not gender or ethnicity neutral as differences exist in expectations of men and women in leadership roles. Gender expectations posed particular challenges for these women student leaders. The prescriptive nature of stage-based models was problematic as findings indicated leadership identity development a complicated and continuing process influenced strongly by relationships and experiences. This study enhanced knowledge of the ways that Hispanic women students become leaders and the influences that shape their leadership experiences which can assist higher education professionals in developing leadership programs and courses that address gender, multiculturalism and awareness of self as leader.

Subject Area

Higher Education Administration|Educational leadership|Womens studies|Hispanic American studies

Recommended Citation

Onorato, Suzanne M, "Developing a leadership identity: A case study exploring a select group of Hispanic women at a Hispanic serving institution" (2010). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3431306.