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Developing Their Voices: The Experiences of Women Senior Executives in Federal Government as They Develop Voice Open Access

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Abstract of the DissertationDeveloping Their Voices: The Experiences of Women Senior Executives in Federal Government as They Develop VoiceThe “glass ceiling” (Hymowitz & Schellhardt, 1986), invisible barriers preventing women from reaching executive-level organizational positions, has not been cracked (Seltzer et al., 2017) and “sticky floors” (Booth et al., 2003), representing women becoming stuck as they try to climb the job ladder, contribute to their underrepresentation in top management positions. These phenomena are represented in the federal sector with senior executive service (SES) membership, (Lashley, 2013). Only 34% of the SES are women despite the federal work force composition of 43% women (OPM, 2014). Belenky et al.’s (1986) seminal model of women’s ways of knowing focused on the learning styles of women. It is still used today to understand how women develop knowledge in the workplace. This phenomenological study extends that tradition to explore how women SES also used their voice in the workplace throughout their career advancement and contributes to the empirical literature on how women SES speak out and learn through the lens of memory and life stories. In this study, talking and learning, were conceptually framed by Belenky et al.’s (1986, 1997) work. Ten participants recently retired from the SES from six federal agencies were selected and interviewed using a modified version of Seidman’s (2013) three stage interview method; data were analyzed using Moustakas’s (1994) heuristic inquiry. Eleven themes emerged from the experiences of study participants offering insight into developing voice in the workplace. Two contributions, talking in changing ways and turning points, were added to a conceptual framework of a Belenky’s developmental staged model of talking and learning. All participants were at the highest stage, yet a few moved between the highest and a lesser stage of talking, depending on the situation and influence.The study concluded that the few who moved between stages would have remained at the most advanced stage through mentoring until retirement. The findings from this study provide insight into the role of voice and learning in career advancement of women in the federal sector and suggest contributions for future research.

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