Date of Award

Spring 5-2019

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)



Second Advisor



Women are entering the workforce at an increasing rate, yet they are still drastically underrepresented in leadership positions. The primary research question addressed in this study was two-fold: what challenges have women faced in pursuit of leadership positions, and how have these women overcome these challenges to achieve success? While quantitative research has ventured into determining why there is still such a large gender gap in leadership positions, this study aimed to better understand the actual life experiences of successful female leaders. In this study, twenty-six women who hold – or recently held – significant leadership positions participated in qualitative interviews that ranged from thirty five to two hours in length. Thematic Content Analysis of these interviews indicated that women still face a number of unique challenges, including an emphasized consideration of their appearance, especially with regard to their perceived age. Women reported feeling that their youthful appearance (even if they were not actually young), led to perceptions that they were not taken as seriously as their male colleagues. Due to these perceptions, they observed that they had to gain the respect that their male peers had already been given as they aged. The interviews provided insights into how women can overcome the additional challenges they face as they pursue leadership positions. Strategies that the women recommended included learning how to advocate for oneself and connecting with mentors and sponsors. Finally, the women recognized that men must be actively involved in addressing gender bias if it is to be overcome. One method to improve their understanding of how gender bias impacts women is through personalization, which would help men better realize how they can support women in reaching their greatest potential. Women are still negatively affected by gender bias in the workforce, and successful female leaders have overcome significant challenges in order to achieve their positions. Women should utilize strategies such as engaging with sponsors and advocating for themselves in order to minimize some of the barriers to career advancement. Furthermore, men need to feel personally invested in reducing the burden of gender bias on women.