An interpretative phenomenological study exploring the lived experiences of women who have succeeded into senior leadership positions
Although women’s participation in the workforce has steadily grown in recent decades and their representation in senior leadership positions has risen, much of the research continues to focus on explaining the barriers that prevents their upward advancement. In contrast, understanding what has enabled women to reach the top, has received much less attention. Due to this gap, the aim of this study was to explore and understand the lived experiences of women who have become senior leaders.
An Heideggerian interpretative phenomenological approach was adopted. Purposive sampling was used to select eleven women from across the British Isles who were employed in positions at director level or above in the Finance, Education, Health, Law, Sports and Culture sectors. Braun and Clarke’s six phase approach to reflexive thematic analysis was used to analyse data from semi-structured interviews conducted during 2018-2019.
The study found that three personal attributes were instrumental to the women’s career advancement into senior leadership, which formed the basis to propose a novel framework. Resilience provided them with the ability to combat challenges, overcome hurdles and bounce back from adversity. Ambition gave the women a sense of purpose, the desire for success, a determination to seek out new opportunities and the courage to push themselves beyond their comfort zone. Wisdom armed them with an intuitive, authentic and superior understanding of themselves and a moral, social and emotional maturity.
This study contributes to knowledge and practice by presenting the Resilience, Ambition and Wisdom (RAW) Framework for women’s leadership success and identifying the value of early professional coaching for career advancement. It also emphasises the importance of resilience and ambition combined, for career mobility and highlights the value of wisdom for women’s leadership practice. Recommendations from this study are that the RAW framework is used at an individual and an organisational level to guide the development of resilience, ambition and wisdom. Women should engage in early career coaching to help them gain focus, alleviate failure anxieties and develop effective leadership strategies. Organisations should proactively promote coaching as part of their roles in helping these individuals access positions of responsibility early in their careers. Further research examining the emerging RAW framework including the development of a self-assessment scale and the relationship between personality type temperament and women’s career advancement, is also recommended.