Date of Conferral







Teresa M. Lao


While the number of African American women filling executive level positions in Fortune 500 companies in America has improved, there is still a need for significant improvements in increasing their access to corporate chief executive officer (CEO) positions. African American women occupy only 11.7% of the board seats, and their representation as CEOs has steadily declined. Throughout the history of Fortune 500 companies, there have been only 14 African American men with CEO titles. As of January 2017, there are no African American women CEOs. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to examine the lived experiences and perceptions of 15 African American women who aspire to be chief executive officers in corporate America. The experiences and perceptions of these women were examined to understand why there is a limited number of African American women CEOs despite their increase in executive level roles. The responses from 15 African American revealed that the increased numbers of these women in the executive leadership level resulted from diversity initiatives that made it possible for these women to return to school, and provided a context in which organizational leaders could recognize their talent. The organizations' use of diversity initiatives contributed to practices that legally allow them to minimize the number of minorities they hire at the executive level. The theoretical framework included elements from critical theory, critical race theory, and black feminist theory. The increased representation of these women at the executive level contributes to positive social change because the information adds to the existing literature on the lack of African American women CEOs in corporate America and may provide knowledge that will guide other women pursuing this role.