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Solving for X in the Y Domain

Strategies for Overcoming Gender Barriers to Leadership

Gae Walters, PhD

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Increasingly, albeit in small numbers, women are overcoming the forces that have prevented qualified women from entering the executive suites of organizations. However, very little is known about the strategies for overcoming gendered obstacles and reaching senior executive roles, particularly in male-dominated fields.

In Solving for X in the Y Domain, sixteen women who are leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) describe their experiences with overcoming gender-based barriers to reaching senior-level leadership positions, and they share these strategies and skills with other aspiring women. This study adds a new dimension to the body of knowledge by describing women’s strategies, behaviors, and skills for overcoming gender bias and backlash, with the differentiating aspect of this study being a focus on women who have empowered themselves to seek and to find strategies and behaviors that enabled them to surmount the specific obstacles they encountered. Their detailed accounts incorporate extensive layers of situational facts as well as their feelings, impressions, perceptions, thoughts, and reactions. Women leaders’ experiences in the use of buffering behaviors—self-management, impression management, political skill, and performance—provide a template of behaviors to successfully mitigate the effects of gender-based barriers.

These inspiring professional women did not give up, they did not quit, and they were tenacious in the face of disheartening and demoralizing situations. On occasion they become discouraged, angry, incensed, and frustrated. However, they continued to direct their energies and their intellects toward solving for X in the Y domain.

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