Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

J. Beth Mabry

Second Advisor

Dana Hysock Witham

Third Advisor

Melissa Swauger


Despite women representing 61% of the workforce in banking, women hold only 23% of all senior level positions and 11% of CEO positions. Instead, women fill the majority of the lower level positions at banks, including that of the teller, customer service representative, and administrative positions. The purpose of this research was to explore the experiences of the relatively few women who have achieved executive leadership status in banking, particularly their perceptions of the opportunities and barriers to advancement they encountered and how they responded to them. The experiences of women in lower leadership levels was explored as well, providing insight into the perceived opportunities and barriers women face as they aspire to advance in banking. Additionally, the experiences of women who have left the banking industry as a response to their challenges were explored.

This study used qualitative research to explore participants’ experiences as they aspired to leadership in the banking industry. Twenty-one women holding various levels of leadership in banking participated in this study. In-depth interviews were conducted to allow participants to explore their journeys and reflect on the barriers that inhibited their advancement and opportunities that facilitated their success in banking.

Key patterns emerged for the majority of participants in this study. The most common perceived barriers facing women in banking were unsupportive women, interpersonal conflicts with men, gender discrimination, prove oneself, and workplace harassment. The most common perceived opportunities for women who participated in this study were supportive women leaders, fixing a problem and/or filling a gap, self-advocacy, emphasis on business impact and business outcomes, men as mentors, men as sponsors, and started outside of the retail division.

There is no single and direct path to success in banking, as women experienced barriers and opportunities at different points along their journeys. This study supports research that women have the capacity to respond to challenges in ways that help them overcome barriers and uncover new opportunities that allow them to reach the highest levels of leadership. This study also informs efforts at the individual, organizational, and industry levels to promote women’s leadership and facilitate greater gender diversity in bank leadership roles.