PhD Project by Liv Nelson

Few women can be found in leadership positions globally, and yet fewer on executive boards, even in a highly developed country like Switzerland. My research poses the question: why are there still so few women making it into top management (C-level) positions despite Anglo-western scholarly research extensively having covered various barriers women face in the workplace over the past decades?

Data was collected using in-depth, semi-structured interviews, mainly face-to-face (70%; 30% via telephone), with 20 executive board members (10 females and 10 males) working for predominantly large Swiss Market Index listed corporations. The interviews covering the career and life trajectories of the executives were conducted in the native language of executives (65% in Swiss-German, 25% in German, and 10% in English). Respondents worked in diverse functions on the executive boards and represented some of the largest firms and sectors of the Swiss economy. Executive board members (as opposed to CEOs) were interviewed due to there being no female CEOs running any of the largest Swiss firms at the time of this study.

Due to having an educational background from specific business and military schools, which have a tradition to prepare their members for executive careers, as well as my shared gender and relevant work / social experience to the group I am studying, I am at least partially an insider researcher. Instead of seeing subjectivity as a hindrance and something one must work to avoid as a researcher, I follow those people before me who see subjectivity as an asset for deep understanding. Aiming to reach an unusual level of depth of analysis, I employ a research design, which is rooted in feminist scholarly tradition. My philosophical paradigm is one following a relativist ontology and constructionist epistemology. I analyze my data using reflexive thematic analysis by Braun and Clarke (2006; 2019; 2022), a method originating from the discipline of psychology.


Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101.
Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2019). Reflecting on reflexive thematic analysis. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 11(4), 589-597.
Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2022). Conceptual and design thinking for thematic analysis. Qualitative Psychology, 9(1), 3-26.
Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2022). Thematic analysis: A practical guide. London: SAGE.

PhD Project by Tina Rosenfeld

Advisory boards currently play a central role in the survival of startups by facilitating mentoring, networking, and a legitimizing platform for raising capital. One of their most crucial roles is that of validating the startup and its founders towards potential investors. While the importance of advisory boards is well studied, advisory board practices are still considered “black boxes” by the literature (Weber, 2017). Additionally, recent research shows that women face disadvantages when trying to finance their companies (Kanze et al., 2020, 2017; Balachandra et al., 2019). Gendered practices and finance decisions that occur within advisory boards have not yet been studied in depth. To study the internal processes and practice of advisory boards, I am participating closely with a group of advisory boards in the Chilean startup context as an observing participant using practice theory as a theory and methodology. 

My ethnographic study aims to answer the following research question “How do advisory boards develop over time as an organizational practice?" particularly with regards to intertwined and counter acting gendered and financing practices. Access to the field will be achieved through my active participation in the Chilean startup ecosystem as both a mentor and investor. 


Balachandra, L., Briggs, T., Eddleston, K., & Brush, C. (2019). Don’t Pitch Like a Girl!: How Gender Stereotypes Influence Investor Decisions. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 43(1), 116–137.

Balachandra, L., Fischer, K., & Brush, C. (2021). Do (women’s) words matter? The influence of gendered language in entrepreneurial pitching. Journal of Business Venturing Insights, 15, e00224.

Kanze, D., Huang, L., Conley, M. A., & Higgins, E. T. (2018). We Ask Men to Win and Women Not to Lose: Closing the Gender Gap in Startup Funding. Academy of Management Journal, 61(2), 586–614.}

Weber, E. (2017). Advisory boards in startups: Investigating the roles of Advisory Boards in German technology-based startups. Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden.