I'mpossible: A Phenomenological Study of Factors Contributing to African American Women's Successful Ascension to Senior Leadership in Corporate America

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Organization Development & Change (D.O.D.C.)


Organization Development

First Advisor

Deborah O'Neil (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Margaret Brooks (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

David Jamieson (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Chris Willis (Other)


African American women are actively advancing to senior leadership across various business sectors in the United States. Many extraordinary Black women have strategically navigated and overcome barriers to occupy influential positions in some of the country's most well-known companies. Although increasing numbers of African American women and other minority females are breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling or concrete wall, literature on African American women leaders primarily focuses on organizational and institutional barriers. This qualitive, phenomenological study focuses on 13 African American women leaders who successfully climbed the corporate ladder to senior or executive positions within their fields' professional leadership contexts. By learning from their unique, lived experiences, this study identified facilitators that contributed to their successful ascension. These facilitators were categorized by contextual and individual factors, and key themes that emerged from this study included (a) race and gender barrier and asset, (b) career success and motivation, (c) family influences, (d) cultivating a community, (e) investment in professional development, (f) personal brand management, and (g) personal board of directors and advocates.