Women leaders of nonprofits focus of research study

August 31, 2009

Women leaders of the region’s nonprofits are receiving a professional helping hand from Penn State Harrisburg faculty member Tirparna Vasavada.

An assistant professor of public administration, Vasavada is embarking on the first stages of a gender-focused research project supported by the college’s Research Council. The study intends to serve as a guide for the female leaders by providing information on their complex roles and the dynamics of their professional relationships.

A faculty member in the School of Public Affairs for two years, Vasavada said the research has several purposes.

“I want to learn the influence of social, cultural and political factors on the leadership style of women leaders of nonprofit organizations in light of their dealing with the male-dominated policymaking world.”

With the goal of interviewing 30 women leaders, Vasavada said the research is initially exploratory.

“I can’t jump in with a hypothesis, I have research questions that need investigation,” she said. “I need to find out what is important in their world. As I conduct the interviews, the leaders’ stories will guide and frame the larger study.” That larger study will involve comparing the professional challenges confronted by women nonprofit leaders in her native India with those in America.

The study also will focus on social networks with an emphasis on how the subjects navigate them, profiling challenges they face, and determining if gender plays a role.

“Networking has changed dramatically. I anticipate investigating e-networks and other communication technologies used by the female leaders as they navigate their cross-sector partnerships and maintain their professional networks.

"Findings of the research will broaden the knowledge available to female nonprofit leaders by considering the influence of social, cultural, and political factors on their leadership style," she said.

In addition to nonprofit management and gender and leadership, Vasavada’s research interests are in disaster management and social network analysis. As a Ford Foundation Fellow, she has worked as co-managing editor for a leading journal in women studies, Gender & Society. She was also a member of the Rockefeller College Review - Working Paper Series and was assistant editor for the Book News section in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly News Letter.

Last Updated July 28, 2017