Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Affairs and Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Peter Kobrak

Second Advisor

Dr. Susan Hannah

Third Advisor

Dr. Gwendolyn Etter-Lewis


This study explores the career advancement experiences of African American women who have successfully broken through the glass ceiling. The term “glass ceiling” refers to artificial or invisible barriers based on attitudinal or organizational bias that prevent qualified women and minorities from advancing into senior-level management positions. Studies have confirmed that a glass ceiling does exist for African American women and that they are severely underrepresented in top level government jobs, they have less opportunity for advancement, and both gender and race are perceived as factors in their limited representation (MSPB 1992).

What is the Impact of Breaking the Glass Ceiling on African American Females in Senior Level Management Positions? To answer this research question, I interviewed 20 African American female executives to gain insight as to their experiences, lessons learned, successes, failures, and their progression toward shattering the glass ceiling in the government. I accomplished this study using a qualitative research design with in-depth interviews as the primary research instrument.

The executives identified nine factors contributing to their success in penetrating the glass ceiling: (1) survival skills, (2) network/support system, (3) work ethic, (4) mentors and sponsors, (5) a sense of self-worth and self-confidence, (6) spiritual values, (7) balance in life, (8) leadership style, and (9) cultural identity. Three factors out of the nine include characteristics unique to African American women that create a cultural model of success: networking support system, spiritual values, and cultural identity.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access