The adage "opportunity knocks" describes the serendipitous origins of this study. In 1992, in a graduate seminar on public organizational behavior, I wrote a research prospectus on examining the leadership behavior of women as chairs of state legislative committees. Like most graduate assignments, the prospectus was undertaken with a certain pragmatism on my part: I knew something about legislatures, committees, and legislative leadership from my years as director of legislative management at the National Conference of State Legislatures. What I did not appreciate at that time was that the study of legislative leadership borrowed very little from the theoretical insights of public administrationists and others who specialize in understanding organizations, leadership behavior, and gender. I also was unaware of the paucity of research on women as political leaders. As I connected these facts, a door opened and thus an opportunity presented itself.
Using gender as a lens for analysis and understanding, this book seeks to explore the nexus of representation, organizations, and leadership in state legislative bodies. Although these concepts are often given separate consideration, there is no extant study that examines their interrelationship both empirically and contextually. This study draws heavily on administrative and organization theories to inform an exposition of legislative leadership behavior, and in that sense, the project has been somewhat unique.
To date, much of what has been written about women as political leaders has been biographical or based on relatively small samples. To be sure, women as leaders of our major institutions of governance have been too few in number to allow for much analysis or comparison. As a result, many questions about women in institutional leadership roles have gone unanswered: Do women in positions of power and leadership in political institutions differ in background, behavior, and outlook from men? Are there gender-related leadership styles in political settings? What effect do institutional constraints and norms have on men and women holding similar positions of political leadership? What impact do women in leadership positions have on the institutions in which they serve?