Women and Leadership: A Qualitative Analysis of Female CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies
McAlpine, Kristie L.
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Although the "glass ceiling" metaphor has been used to explain the dearth of women in leadership positions, Eagly and Carli (2007) argue that "labyrinth" more accurately describes women's difficult career paths. Instead of overt, intentional prejudice, Heilman's Lack-of-Fit model (2001) and Eagly and Karau's role congruity theory of prejudice (2002) posit that discrimination against women results from inherent role conflicts. Specifically, prescriptive expectations for women's behavior conflict with the behavior they demonstrate in leadership positions, which can lead to biased assumptions that result in discriminatory hiring and promotional decisions. Business studies exploring the small number of female board directors (e.g. Burgess & Fallon, 2002; Daily, Certo & Dalton, 1999) provide some insight into the obstacles that women face on the path to top organizational levels, but no such research exists for female CEOs. This study aims to fill the gap in the literature about women CEOs and explore the challenges that confront women en route to the executive suite. An analysis of the careers of6 women Fortune 500 CEOs revealed the common obstacles that each woman faced and their methods for overcoming them. Secondary data from business databases were analyzed, revealing four main themes behind the women's success: work-life balance, human capital, social capital, and psychological capital. Results revealed that women did acknowledge the barriers against women in the workplace, but relied on the 4 strategies to aid them in gaining a CEO appointment. Suggestions for future research and improved business practices are discussed.