Knaben, Ase (2010-07). Identity Formation of Women in Leadership Positions in Corporate America: Three Journeys to Top Leadership Positions. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • The purpose of this study was to understand and interpret the identity formation of women on their journeys to leadership positions in corporate America. The narratives of these women in leadership positions described their experiences of how they became who they are, their experiences of critical points, their achievements and their sacrifices in their lives on their journey to these positions. The dissertation design was an empirical, qualitative, interpretive study which simultaneously drew upon and developed the theoretical work of Erik H. Erikson regarding the concept of ego-identity. Women in this study were purposively selected based on criteria for this research. They were successful females in engineering management positions, which is a male-dominated field. Data were obtained through in-depth interviews. Three main themes about their self-knowledge emerged from the findings in the study as components in the women's identity formation. These components shaped and developed the women to become who they are today, starting as a process from early child hood and until today. The three main themes are as follows: relations between mothers and daughters, a delayed moratorium and inner strength. The women in this study are unanimous in regard to singling out the significance of their mothers. Their mothers have been instrumental to their futures in regard to education in a male-oriented area and in giving them a "sense of being all right." Furthermore, these women seemed to undergo a delayed moratorium state as adults. This finding was a departure from and an addition to Erik H. Erikson's concept of "moratorium", in that I found that these successful women were able to make-up for their inability to obtain a moratorium in young adulthood by fashioning it in mid-life. They described these experiences of getting closer to themselves and what life was really about. Finally, this study revealed that these women had an inner strength to go on when they faced obstacles and hurdles in their careers and their personal lives. This inner strength consisted of resilience and authenticity, an ability to stay true to themselves.

publication date

  • May 2010