Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counselor Education


Dorothy Breen

Second Committee Member

Mary Madden

Third Committee Member

Kristin Langellier


Women's experiences and voices have been effectively muted in research and education, remaining outside mainstream scholarship. Therefore, most theoretical understanding of human experience and development has been generalized to include women, based on studies conducted by and with White, middle-class men. While feminist researchers represent an important exception, relatively little attention has been paid to women's unique characteristics, dilemmas, and strengths over the past decade. This qualitative study aimed to contribute to the body of knowledge related to women by investigating the phenomenon of women's participation in small, shared-leadership, same-gendered groups. Specifically, this research deeply probed the meanings of participants' membership, voiced by members. To more fully understand the meanings of women's small group experiences, 6 subquestions were explored: (a) Who is participating? (b) What occurs during group gatherings? (c) What benefits, if any, are experienced? (d) What barriers to participation do members encounter? (e) What importance do members place on their group involvement? And (f) How is leadership shared among the members? Between January and April, 2009, focus-group interviews were conducted with 9 identified groups formed for varying purposes. Researched groups were located in 3 regions of the United States: Northeast, Southeast, and West. The 52 women participating in this study ranged in age from 32 to 79 years old. Data gathered included focus-group interview transcripts, brief demographic surveys, researcher field notes and journal entries. Data analysis resulted in a group profile for each participating group, and identification of common and divergent factors related to members' expressed meanings of their group involvements across groups. A model, the Conception, Social Outing, Recognition, Deeply Known, and Spiritual and Transcendent Experiences (CORDS), is presented to visually represent the research findings. This study provided support for the literature related to the importance of engagement and deep empathy in women's development. Support was also provided for the value of small groups and the importance of cohesion in small groups. Additionally, this research provided support for emerging theories related to shared leadership. Implications of these findings for women and those who work with women were identified. Suggestions for related areas of future research were provided.

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