Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Michael Abebe

Second Advisor

Dr. Jennifer Welbourne

Third Advisor

Dr. Jorge Gonzalez


The U.S. female labor market participation rate has significantly improved in the last 50 years (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2007). Along with the broader female labor participation rate, the level of female representation at the executive and director-level positions has shown some improvement in the last 24 years, albeit at a much slower pace than it has been in recent years (Pew Research Center Report, 2018). For example, while the number of female Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) leading Fortune 500 companies was zero in 1995, it rose by 7.4% by 2020. Despite some improvement, a mere 7.4% increase in the last 24 years suggests that women’s representation in corporate America’s top leadership positions is still lagging. Given these trends, research has primarily focused on understanding the ‘glass ceiling’, which has been defined as the conspicuous and persistent gap in female representation in senior corporate leadership positions (Morrison, White & Van Velsor, 1987), as well as the performance consequences of female CEO appointments. Despite the important insights generated from this line of research, less is known as to whether and how female CEOs, compared to their male counterparts, systematically differ in their choices of corporate strategies. The significance of unpacking this issue lies in the fact that female CEOs, despite holding top roles, often face a dilemma between conforming to the socially sanctioned gender roles of consensus-seeking and risk-averse leadership behavior (which I term in this study as a “dovish” posture) and demonstrating counter-stereotypical, risk-taking, and aggressive behavior (which I term in this study as a “hawkish” posture). Additionally, because the organizational socialization process for female leaders is often harsher and less supportive (McDonald, Keeves, & Westphal, 2018; Eagly, Makhijani, & Klonsky, 1992) it is reasonable to expect that the decision-making process and subsequent strategic choices may differ when a firm is run by a female CEO instead of a male CEO.

To address this research gap, I explore three research questions in this dissertation. First, drawing insights from stereotype threat (Hoyt & Murphy, 2016; Inzlicht & Schmader, 2012) and expectancy violation (Jussim, Coleman, & Lerch, 1987; Burgoon, 1985) theories, I explore whether and why female CEOs, compared to their male counterparts, initiate more firm-level strategic change (i.e., hawkish leader behavior). Additionally, to better understand the complex boundary conditions and contingencies that shape this relationship, I examine various executive, organizational, and industry-level moderators. Second, using the hawkish leader behavior perspective, I also explore whether and under what conditions female CEOs, compared to their male counterparts, pursue organizational innovation. Finally, using the tenets of socialization theory, I investigate whether and under what conditions firms led by female CEOs, compared to their male counterparts, engage in strategic conformity (a lack of deviation from an industry’s central norms) in line with my dovish leader behavior predictions. I empirically examine these relationships using data from U.S.-based publicly traded corporations listed in the Standard & Poor’s 1500 (S&P 1500) index.

The findings suggest that female CEOs, compared to their male counterparts, engage in more strategic change and less strategic conformity. Further, the relationship between female CEOs and strategic change is negatively moderated by past firm performance whereby female CEOs engage in less strategic change following strong firm performance. Additionally, the findings suggest that compared to their male counterparts, female CEOs engage in more organizational innovation (as measured in new product introductions or NPIs). Upon a closer examination of the conditions surrounding this relationship, the findings show that female CEOs launch more NPIs when there is a higher proportion of female directors on the board. Similarly, I found that the condition that affects the relationship between female CEOs and NPIs is the nature of predecessor CEO exit (i.e., voluntary vs. dismissal departure). In particular, the findings indicate that female CEO-led firms launch more NPIs when the predecessor CEO was dismissed. Furthermore, the results of a supplemental analysis reveal that female CEOs engage in more strategic change (and less strategic conformity) when they are in their later stages of tenure. In addition, female CEOs engage in less strategic change (and more strategic conformity) when the board is composed of more independent directors.

Overall, the findings in this study make a number of contributions to both research and practice. In particular, this study contributes to research on the organizational consequences of female corporate leaders by investigating whether the strategic choices of female CEOs differ significantly from their male counterparts. Further, the findings advance research in this area by specifically examining the organizational and environmental contingencies that shape female CEOs’ gender role expectations as they pertain to the choice of corporate strategies. Regardless of whether female CEOs respond to socially sanctioned gender roles in the form of conforming (i.e., dovish posture) or violating expectations (i.e., hawkish posture), their strategic choices have important implications for corporate outcomes. Thus, understanding the risk-taking (or risk-averse) behaviors of female CEOs is very important for ensuring robust corporate governance and subsequently, firm performance. Finally, the findings also provide practical insights regarding female CEOs’ risk-taking behaviors in the context of their strategic choices (such as pursuing strategic change and organizational innovation). These insights are expected to help boards of directors improve the effectiveness of their oversight and advice roles, including CEO succession decisions.


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