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My Town: WMU-Grand Rapids research highlights barriers for women leaders in social work | News

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My Town: WMU-Grand Rapids research highlights barriers for women leaders in social work
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My Town: WMU-Grand Rapids research highlights barriers for women leaders in social work

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., Feb. 23, 2015 – Research surrounding barriers for women leaders in social work was recently presented by professors Dr. Barbara Barton and Dr. Dee Sheerwood, along with WMU-Grand Rapids student Courtney Dunsmore, at the Ethnographic and Qualitative Research Conference in Las Vegas.

The paper, “Falling Silent: Analyzing the Voices of Women Leaders in the Social Work Profession,” qualitatively explores how 10 women experienced support and barriers in their development as leaders within nonprofit organizations, higher education or governmental agencies.

The focus of the analysis was on the women’s interpersonal, professional and educational experiences. In these domains, women may experience gender bias or micro aggressions that tend to magnify the impact of women’s socialization to take on subordinate roles. Successful women leaders utilized cognitive reframing strategies, humor, mentoring relationships and spiritual practices to positively cultivate leadership roles. National social media campaigns such as #likeagirl or #banbossy highlight increased interest in opportunities to develop the next generation of women leaders.

Barton has been teaching interpersonal practice and policy, planning and administration classes in WMU's graduate and undergraduate programs since 2005. Sherwood is responsible for managing daily operations of the Master of Social Work--MSW--program in Grand Rapids and teaching leadership courses. Dunsmore serves as a research assistant, and will be graduating with her MSW degree in April 2015.

“Having the opportunity to present at the EQRC this year was a very rewarding experience,” said Sherwood. “We were thrilled to have been selected, and it was critical having a WMU student on the research team. Courtney shared important perspectives from the millennial generation of women leaders.”

The conference is an annual event. It features research projects from a broad spectrum of topics. Traditional ethnographic and qualitative research serves as a common thread for all the projects and papers presented at the conference. This year the conference was sponsored by the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and was held at The Flamingo Hotel Feb. 9.


About Western Michigan University: U.S. News & World Report has designated WMU one of the country’s best national universities for 24 consecutive years and has placed it in the top tier of those universities annually since creating the tier five years ago. Western Michigan University's main campus is located in Kalamazoo, covering more than 550 acres and including 125 buildings. The university has regional locations in Battle Creek, Benton Harbor-St. Joseph, Grand Rapids, Lansing, Metro Detroit, Muskegon and Traverse City. 

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