Breaking Glass Ceilings? The Rise of the Female CFO: A Sequence Analysis of Female CFOs in Top Danish Companies

Mie Prehn Nygaard

Student thesis: Master thesis


Women currently only hold 27% of all leadership positions and 7% of all executive management positions in Danish companies, and this places Denmark at the bottom of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report regarding women in leadership positions. I highlight this fact because it is inconsistent with the international media’s portrayal of Denmark as one of the most equal countries in the world, and it questions why Denmark’s progress in equality does not follow suit in executive management suites. Previous researchers that have sought to explain gender gaps in leadership positions have mainly used the Glass Ceiling Hypothesis; the notion that women can only advance to a certain level in corporations due to the sole reason that they are women. There is a gap in existing research in terms of explaining how some women have been able to break Glass Ceilings. As a matter of fact, recent years have shown an upsurge in female leadership, particularly in the male-dominated industry of Finance. This means that, over the past years, the number of women CFOs in Danish companies has significantly increased, and this Thesis will be the first official attempt to study this development and its implications for breaking Glass Ceilings. In order to take a new approach, I will refrain from investigating structural barriers, which has been the focus of many previous scholars, and instead focus on the women’s occupational histories. In order to study the women’s careers I borrow tools and methods from Sequence Analysis and Optimal Matching. This approach allows me to investigate whether the women’s careers are coincidental or follow clear trajectories. My results suggest three general career patterns; firstly, a group of women displays orderly careers, dominantly advancing within the same company, secondly, another group exploits career moves across companies and industries to their own advantage, and thirdly, a group of women move back-and-forth in position levels in order to reach the CFO level. My data indicates that the financial crisis in 2007-2008 created career opportunities for the group of women, that I chose to study, and for this reason I will discuss what implications the hiring of women under high levels of economic uncertainty have for breaking Glass Ceilings. I will conclude that the financial crisis created a window of opportunity for the studied women, but this does not mean it created equal opportunities for men and women.

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages121
SupervisorsLeonard Seabrooke