Spring 2015

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Leadership (Ed.D.)

Type of Paper/Work



Kathleen M. Boyle

Second Advisor

Stacey L. Larsen

Third Advisor

Sarah J. Noonan


This research sought to answer the questions, “Why does the leadership gender gap persist in Corporate America? How does the corporation bring gender parity to the executive suite sooner than 70 years from now” (Catalyst, 2005)? The Fortune 500 (i.e., the largest publically held companies in the United States in terms of revenue) represented the data pool for this qualitative grounded theory study. Data gathering took place through in-depth interviews held with 22 women leaders (i.e., director, vice president, senior vice president, executive vice president, president, chief executive officer, and chief operating officer levels). Because only women understand the particulars of leading as a female in Corporate America, only women participated in the study. This approach allowed for the exploration of real life observations and anecdotes regarding the lack of gender diverse values and perspectives at the executive level. With respect to why the leadership gender gap persists, four thematic categories arose from the data including (a) the gap is real, (b) it is still a man’s world in the executive suite, (c) on culture/off culture, and (d) trade-offs too high. It is still a man’s world in the executive suite surfaced as the root cause of the continued loss of talented women as they progress through the leadership pipeline. Many talented women no longer want to behaviorally adapt to the male dominant and masculine defined leadership culture; therefore, they choose to broker their human capital equity outside of the four walls of Corporate America. Therefore the leadership gender gap persists. Women bring unique values to the leadership equation, ones that lend themselves to different points of view on how to earn and use power, as well as how to have an enriching professional life and personal life. To manage the leadership pipeline, corporations need to look at things differently. Four thematic categories arose from the data pointing to the unique values and perspectives women bring to the leadership table. These values and perspectives include (a) money and status not primary motivators; (b) earn your way to the top; (c) relationship is key; and (d) work and family harmony. With respect to closing the leadership gender gap, three thematic categories arose from the data including (a) shift the leadership culture, (b) initiate as a business level strategy, and (c) manage through talent infrastructure. Shift the leadership culture surfaced as the core strategic management technique for bringing gender parity to the executive suite. Because it is taking so long for women to reach the tipping point in the executive suite (33% representation), the point where women’s unique values and perspectives become self-sustaining, corporations must intentionally shift the leadership culture to one that values, models, and rewards the uniqueness of both genders in equal measure. Three major conclusions arose from the data including (a) shifting from counting numbers of women in the executive suite to intentionally bringing gender balanced values and perspectives to fruition within the executive suite; (b) shifting from managing compliance to strategically focusing on building gender diverse talent capacity; and (c) shifting from thinking it is a woman’s responsibility to resolve the leadership gender gap problem to leading from the top of the organization. Based on these conclusions, the research brought forth an emerging change model—EQUIPOISE—for closing the leadership gender gap. The frameworks used to validate the data-driven findings included constructivist and cultural theories with research by Bolman and Deal (2003), Goffman (as cited in Collins, 1994), and Kivisto (2011), gender theory with research by Brizendine (2006), Chodorow (1999), DeBoer (2004), Gilligan (1993), and Rosener (1990), double bind theory by Bateson (2000), acculturation theory by Berry (1997), significance of numbers theory by Simmel (as cited in Kanter, 1997), and strategic diversity theory by Chun and Evans (2014).

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

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