Three of America's largest aerospace and defense companies (ADC1, ADC2, and ADC3) have major operations in the Los Angeles region of Southern California. This study focused on a single aerospace and defense company, ADC1. In the broader population of ADC1, there are almost as many females (45%) as there are males. However, of the 19 members of ADC1's leadership team for its Southern California region-based division, as of October 2008, less than 16% were women. The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand what it is like to be a female senior executive leader in the male-dominated aerospace and defense industry. The study helped to develop an understanding of the lived experiences of female executives, to learn how they achieved this level of senior leadership, and to understand what it is like for them to be a small minority at the senior executive level. In-depth interviews were conducted with four female executives employed by ADC1. Before the interviews, each participant completed a Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) Assessment and answered demographic questions. The standard deviation and range for the 4 female executives were higher on the practice Encourage the Heart, and the standard deviation and range were markedly higher in the category Challenge the Process. The interviews were conducted using a 12-item questionnaire designed for this study. Key attributes and common themes emerging from the interviews were analyzed using a coding system and were described in detail. Notably, all four executives cited being collaborative, inclusive, and building relationships as key attributes that they feel contributed to their career success. These attributes can be applied by all aspiring leaders, regardless of gender. Female leaders also indicated that they aspired to move into executive leadership roles but were faced with personal and professional barriers, including the lack of a support system in balancing the needs of a career and family. Based on these findings and on the researcher's recommendations for the aerospace industry, the researcher recommends that ADC1 conduct an LPI assessment across a broader population of executives. Additionally it is recommended that ADC1 separately review gender diversity during its annual HR review process.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Aerospace industries -- Employees; Dissertations (EdD) -- Organizational leadership

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Rosensitto, Michelle