Women Leaders in STEM: A Case Study of Naval Surface Warfare Center Corona Division

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Over the past several decades, there has been an increasing workforce demand for talent in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) career fields. Although women make up 27% of the STEM workforce in the United States, they make up 25% of the STEM workforce at Naval Surface Warfare Center Corona Division, and just over 5% of these women reach the level of becoming a high-grade senior-level employee. Through the lens of self-determination theory (SDT) and self-efficacy theory (SET), this research sought to understand how high-grade women STEM professionals have been successful in a federal laboratory environment, why they have continued their STEM careers, and what impacts, if any, can be attributed to organizational culture. A qualitative phenomenological case study was conducted using open-ended interviews with eight women high-grade STEM professionals to gain insight into their lived experiences and assist the researcher in identifying intrinsic and extrinsic sources of motivation within SDT and the impact of SET on the participant's lived experiences. This study revealed the impact exclusion biases could have on career growth and inclusivity within an organization, the effectiveness of passive enablers and the impact of formal champions and mentors, and the need to focus on a healthy work–life balance when evaluating the impact organizational climate and extrinsic motivation factors have on the retention of women in the STEM career fields. The study further revealed the intrinsic and extrinsic sources of motivation that encourage women in the STEM career fields to remain in their profession, including the level of enjoyment while working in a STEM career field, how feeling valued and respected also provides purpose, and how having a manageable work–life balance impacts retention. The recommendations based on the findings from this study are insightful for public sector organizations and leaders at all levels to understand how to retain and motivate STEM professionals regardless of gender identification.
A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Public Administration
Public Administration, Women's Studies, Organizational Behavior