Date of Paper/Work


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Donald LaMagdeleine, Diane Fittipaldi, Deborah Koland


ABSTRACT The purpose of this study was to understand the career trajectories of women in professional careers in corporate America. As it was a very broad category, the women whose stories became the focus for this study were all Baby Boomers (born roughly between 1946 and 1966 into middle-class families in the United States) who had careers in business. Because all of the women represented just two companies in different industries, the analysis provided the opportunity to use a case study format for the research topic. Initially, the research was aimed at understanding how they felt about not making it into the C-Suite and what career decisions had prevented them from moving up the executive ladder. The research questions started with, “Tell me about your family, what it was like when you were growing up, and how did your parents influence your career choices?” Further into the interview, their college degrees were recounted and the subjects typically provided a resume-based review of the jobs they held. The conversation then turned to questions about who were their bosses and how were they treated at work; followed by their reactions to both positive and negative experiences. At the end, subjects were given an opportunity to describe how they felt about their careers at this point in time and how they felt about their achievements. In this qualitative study, the subjects’ responses revealed three overarching theories: feminism (Smith, et. al.), constructivist structuralism (Bourdieu) with a side-nod to organizational structure (Bolman and Deal, and others). Three major themes emerged from the data and formed the framework for analysis: 1) Minimal Awareness and Guidance; 2) Homosocial Reproduction; and, 3) Work-Life Balance. Analyzed within this framework, stark differences were evident between the two groups of women. They all grew up in the 1960s and 1970s when civil rights were at the center of American social and political stages and a new wave of feminism rolled across the country but in most cases, they were just unaware of it, or SWIMMING UPSTREAM v said it had no impact on their experiences as girls. In their families, neither the mother nor father seemed to pay much attention to setting career goals. Once engaged in life as an employee, the women understood the habitus of their company and/or industry and did not question their superiors when a roadblock appeared. The women of Comco seemed more accepting of the bureaucracy and resigned themselves to being a cog in the machine. The women at Mancon had a straighter career path and understood clearly what was needed to succeed in their role; they used social and symbolic capital more commonly to advance their careers. In the end, the differences between the two companies served as the greatest differentiator between the career success of the women in the study. The older, larger, more bureaucratic Comco stifled achievement by women, leaving them wistful about the “what ifs?” Mancon’s culture of communication and creativity allowed the women more freedom to choose and pursue their desired career path – leaving only themselves as a barrier to achievement.


Corporate structure, career counseling, mentors, feminism, habitus, four forms of capital

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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