Date of Award
Master of Public Administration
First Reader/Committee Chair
The definition of leadership is not gender specific; however, the role of a leader continues to be defined in mostly male terms by society. While, women have outpaced men in gaining an undergraduate education, women are not being hired for top leadership roles. There continues to be a gender leadership gap in both the private and public sector. Women continue to advance in their education and career, yet they are unable to break the invisible glass ceiling and attain top leadership roles.
This study proposes that in order to gain equality and reduce the gender leadership gap, in both the public and private sector, it is up to individual women to seek and attain leadership positions, thereby opening the path for others. The study identified both the internal and external barriers that prevent women from moving ahead in their careers. It also provided solutions that women can adopt to gain top leadership roles, based on Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ theory, which notes that women can make adjustments and strategies in order to obtain top leadership positions. Women can overcome barriers and move ahead with their careers by increasing self-confidence, balancing roles at home, and setting realistic standards. Women need to also step out of their comfort zone and believe in themselves.
Through a qualitative content analysis, the study analyzed how three women achieved top leadership roles and were successful in applying the concepts of Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ theory. The study included Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. The study identified the barriers that they individually faced as they sought their career. The women were selected to be part of the study due to their incredible accomplishments of achieving positions in the highest level of judicial public service, in a male-dominated field.
The sampling and collection in this study included the digital autobiographies and biographies of the public service leaders, by creditable sources. The analysis sought to answer the three study questions: What forms of barriers did the Associate Justices face as they advanced in their careers? What strategies and approaches did the Associate Justices take when faced with barriers? How does Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ theory apply to the Associate Justices? The written autobiographies and biographies of the Associate Justices were analyzed using NVivo, a software that analyzes digital texts. Two coding categories were selected as part of the analysis. One focused on the barriers that the Associate Justices encountered as they moved ahead with their career and the second category focused on the strategies and approaches they used to overcome them.
The study findings demonstrated that the Associate Justices faced a significant number of barriers as they sought to advance in their legal careers. They encountered discrimination, gender bias and the obstacles of balancing their careers and family. The analysis results also strongly conveyed that the Associate Justices used a number of strategies and approaches to overcome the barriers. They were self-confident and set realistic standards – therefore validating Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ theory.
Valenzuela, Celene, "The 'Lean In' Theory, Validated by Three Supreme Court Justices" (2018). Electronic Theses, Projects, and Dissertations. 757.