To enter and lead: renegotiating meanings of leadership and examining leadership theory of social power from the perspectives of African American women leaders in predominantly white organizations
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This qualitative, phenomenological study examined the leadership experiences of 10 African American women (AAW)--current or former leaders in predominantly white organizations--to gain an understanding of how well, or not, AAW‟s leadership is represented by traditional and dominant leadership theory. The purpose of this study was to bring the interlocking system of race, gender, and social class (intersectionality) to the conversation on leadership by adding the perspectives of AAW and challenging the traditional and dominant assumptions about the phenomenon of leadership. The data were collected using in-depth interviews and analyzed using a form of narrative analysis. This study confirmed findings from prior research that AAW in positions of leadership: 1) often encounter disempowering experiences whereby their authority is questioned or challenged, 2) experience exclusion from the good ole boy social networks, 3) experience being an outsider-within--feelings of alienation as the only African American person in group settings, 4) express needing to have their qualifications validated before being accepted in their roles, and 5) are challenged to de-myth the stereotypical images that society has sanctioned upon AAW. The most salient encounters the women in this study had were disempowering experiences whereby their race, gender, and/or social class were perceived as creating a challenge to their positions of leadership. Based on the experiences of the participants in this study, traditional and dominant leadership theories, such as French and Raven's (1959) theory of social power that have generally represented the perspectives of white, middle class men, are inadequate for explaining the experiences of AAW. On the other hand socio-cultural theories such as black feminist thought and critical race theory (CRT) offer a wealth of knowledge for explaining how social systems such as race, gender, and social class can be used to maintain a status of marginalization. This study contributes to the fields of HRD and Higher Education (HE). First, leadership development programs should emphasize the socio-cultural challenges to leadership. Second, researchers should broaden the theories that inform the study of leadership. Finally, both fields should begin introducing and utilizing culturally inclusive terms, such as intersectionality, that are not generally associated with the study of leadership.
Byrd, Marilyn Yvonne (2008). To enter and lead: renegotiating meanings of leadership and examining leadership theory of social power from the perspectives of African American women leaders in predominantly white organizations. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from