Roy E. Larsen Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Management
Career stories of 50 female executives from major corporations and high-growth
entrepreneurial ventures suggest two alternative accounts of how women legitimize their claims
to top leadership positions: navigating and pioneering. In navigating accounts, the women
legitimized their claims to top authority positions by following well institutionalized paths of
career advancement (e.g., high performance in line jobs) and self-advocating with the
gatekeepers of the social hierarchy (e.g., bosses, investors). In pioneering accounts, the women
articulated a strategic vision and cultivated a community of support and followership around
their strategic ideas and leadership. The career stories suggested that, when the women’s
authority claims were not validated, they engaged in narrative identity work to revise their
aspirations and legitimization strategies. Sometimes narrative identity work motivated women to
shift from one type of account to another, particularly from navigating to pioneering. Based on
inductive analyses of these 50 career stories, I propose a process model of how women legitimize
their claims to top leadership positions by recursively resetting career accounts as authority
claims succeed or fail.
Bowles, Hannah Riley. "Claiming Authority: How Women Explain their Ascent to Top Business Leadership Positions." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP12-047, October 2012.