Women at the Top: Female Ceos' Perceptions of Important Life and Career Influences

Amy Zimmermann Provost, University of Pennsylvania


This study is focused on the formative personal and professional experiences of 20 Massachusetts-based, female Chief Executive Officers (CEO) in charge of small- to mid-sized organizations. Past research regarding how to develop CEOs was largely based on populations that are almost exclusively male. In addition, many ideas about gender, CEO appointments, and leadership roles are based on data and extrapolations pulled from surveys that used human resource employees or middle managers as respondents rather than the actual leaders in the role. No extant studies are based on the observations of women CEOs regarding what they believe to have been influential experiences in their past. Building on past research this study begins to fill the void by analyzing the results of one-on-one, semi-structured interviews with the 20 women CEOs. Themes and subthemes were developed through examination of interview transcripts, and resulting themes were categorized as either internal external influences. The study found that internal influences, including an intense desire to learn and an equally intense need to be challenged were shared by all of the women, beginning at a very early age. In addition, throughout their personal lives, subjects were influenced externally by parents, teachers, education, and families. In their professional lives external influences included mentors, corporate development programs, on-the-job learning, and supportive spouses. Because of the small sample size and relatively limited diversity of subjects, this study cannot be broadly generalized. It does, however, provide useful information for HR professionals in charge of talent development, and a starting point for future research in the development of women leaders. Keywords: women CEOs, women’s impactful career experiences, women's careers, women’s career development, corporate women, CEO experiences.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Provost, Amy Zimmermann, "Women at the Top: Female Ceos' Perceptions of Important Life and Career Influences" (2020). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI27833475.