THE JOURNEY OF BLACK WOMEN BECOMING FIRSTS AND THRIVING IN POSITIONS OF LEADERSHIP AND AUTHORITY by DENISE WINGATE MATERRE M.Ed., College of New Jersey, 1976 A.B., Smith College, 1974 A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education Leadership for Educational Equity Program 2018
ii Â© 2018 DENISE WINGATE MATERRE ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
iii This thesis for the Doctor of Education degree by Denise Wingate Materre has been approved for the Leadership for Educational Equity Program by Dorothy Garrison Wade, Chair Antwan Jefferson Arentha F. Ball Date: May 12 , 2018
iv Materre, Denise Wingate ( Ed.D, Leaders hip for Educational Equity ) The Journey of Black Women Becoming Firsts and Thrivi ng in Positions of Leadersh ip and Authority Thesis directed by Associate Professor Dorothy Garrison Wade ABSTRACT This study examine s the conditions contributing to Black women becoming firsts and thriving in positions of leadership and authority. This quali tative phenomenological study explore s the lived experienc e s of six Black women leaders, representative of different fields and geographies ac ross the United States. In 2018 , there remains a conspicuous absence of Black women in top leadership positions. The availability of models and mentors to inspire young Blac k girls and women to achieve key positions of authority remains a challenge. The literature of Black women that concentrates on the challenges, barriers, and stereotypes as manifestations of racism, sexism and c lassism diminishes how Black women are viewed. The phenomenological research method provides an opportunity for these leaders to reflect on their journeys, and to use their own voices to share their stories, their insights and collective wisdom. We learn by virtue of their ex perience s that the daily struggles of gendered racism never truly end. The conceptual framework for this study addresses self efficacy, professional development and organizational culture. In spite of their organizational accomplishments, success is a r elative condition, one t hat may be fleeting. Since t he challenges have not ceased these leaders have learned to operate in the face of the struggles that persist. For this reason, this study focuses on the phenomenon to thrive , a dynamic state of contrib uti ng and influencing change.
v T he findings reveal six emergent themes: 1) strong supportive family, 2) strong sense of self/self confidence, 3) resilience/ adaptability, 4) the desire to make an impact/help others, 5) collaborative/connector of people, an d 6 ) use their voice. The six themes that work together dynamically for the leaders to thrive, do not provide a roadmap paved with guarantees. At best, they offer us a pathway lined with uncertainty. And yet, given the option to give up or keep going, we can learn from their experiences and look to the illustrations presented here of r esilience and resolve, as a model to emulate. This study gleans poignant advice to young Black women embarking on their careers and recommendations to organizational leaders committed to the advancement of Black women as leaders . Keywords: Black Feminis t Tho ught, Inclu sion, Self Efficacy, Thrive. The form and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication. Approved: Dorothy Garrison Wade
vi To every Black woman and girl child who dares to dreamÃ‰ We stand on the shoulders of cooks, maids, factory workers , and field hands O ur mamas, aunti es, grandmothers, and godmothers W ho modeled the way W ith resilience and beliefÃ‰ Never give up.
vii ACKNOWLEDG E MENTS The Leaders To this cadre of p owerful, beautiful, smart, talented, creative and courageous Black women Ã‰ who so generously shared their stories and by their example thrive , offer ing each of us a guide to follow, I thank you. Dorothy Garrison Wade & Arnetha F. Ball To my Advisors / Mentors, t wo impeccable sister scholars who shared their knowledge and showed me the wayÃ‰ I admire and cherish you for your b rilliance and your extreme care, To light a path for me and countless others. Sistahs in My Circle To t he village of Sistahs who believed i n me and for me; laughed, prayed, cried with me, held my hand and wiped my brow, and never doubted for a moment, something great and wonderful was possibleÃ‰I am, because We are . B randon and Etienne To the brightest stars in my universe, who said to me eve ryday, Keep on Going Ã‰ Your love gives me courage.
viii M y Lord and Savior Jesus Christ To my Source, I can do all things through You who strengthens me .
ix TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER I. ! INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ............................. 1 Statement of the Problem ................................ ................................ ................... 2 Limits to Success at Senior Levels ................................ ................................ .... 4 Delays in Opening New Doors ................................ ................................ .......... 4 Traditional Scholarship and Telling Our Story ................................ .................. 5 Purpose of the Study ................................ ................................ .......................... 6 Research Questions ................................ ................................ ............................ 7 Significance of the Study ................................ ................................ ................... 7 Definition of Terms ................................ ................................ ............................ 8 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ ......... 9 II. ! REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ................................ ................................ . 10 Theoretical Framework ................................ ................................ ................... 10 Validating Our Experiences ................................ ................................ ............ 11 The Power of Both/And ................................ ................................ .................. 11 Racism, Sexism and Classism ................................ ................................ ......... 12 Conceptual Framework: The Three Pillars ................................ ..................... 13 Pillar I. Self Efficacy ................................ ................................ ................ 13 Pillar II: Professional Development ................................ ........................... 17 Pillar III. Organizational Culture ................................ ............................... 23 Conclusion ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 29 III. ! RESEARCH METHODS ................................ ................................ ............... 31
x Methodology ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 31 Participant Sample ................................ ................................ ......................... 34 Data Collection ................................ ................................ .............................. 35 Data Analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ . 37 Validity of Findings ................................ ................................ ....................... 39 Ethical Considerations ................................ ................................ ................... 41 Limitations ................................ ................................ ................................ ..... 4 1 IV. ! SUMMARY OF FINDINGS ................................ ................................ .......... 43 Narrative Profiles ................................ ................................ ............................ 44 Participant #1: Portia, Executive Director, School Transportation .............. 45 Participant #2: Maya, Senior Academic Official ................................ ......... 48 Participant #3: Shawn, Market President, Finance ................................ ...... 50 Participant #4: Samantha, Associate Director, Cultural Arts ....................... 53 Participant #5: Della, MD., Vice President, National Health Plan .............. 56 Participant #6: Joy, President Emerita ................................ ......................... 58 Emergent Themes ................................ ................................ .......................... 62 Theme # 1: Strong Supportive Family ................................ ......................... 62 Theme # 2: Strong Sense of Self / Self Confidence ................................ .... 66 Theme # 3: Resilience /Adaptability ................................ ............................ 71 Th eme # 4: Desire to Make an Impact/Help Others ................................ .... 76 Theme # 5: Collaborative/ Connector of People ................................ .......... 80 Theme # 6: Use Their Voice ................................ ................................ ......... 85 Other Key Findings ................................ ................................ ........................ 91
xi Response to Research Questions ................................ ................................ ... 95 Advice to Young Black Women and Recommendations to Organizational Leaders ..... 96 Advice to Young Black Women ................................ ................................ ..... 97 Recommendations to Organizational Leaders ................................ ............... 98 V. ! DISCUSSION ................................ ................................ .............................. 101 Summary ................................ ................................ ................................ ...... 110 Implications of Findings ................................ ................................ .............. 113 Future Research ................................ ................................ ........................... 114 REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 11 6 APPENDIX A. Participant Invitation Letter ................................ ................................ ......... 121 B . Interview Protocol ................................ ................................ ........................ 122 C. Informed Consent ................................ ................................ ......................... 123 D. Member Checking ................................ ................................ ........................ 123 E. Advice to Young Black Women ................................ ................................ ... 124 F. Recommendatio ns to Organizational LeadersÃ‰Ã‰Ã‰Ã‰Ã‰Ã‰Ã‰Ã‰Ã‰Ã‰Ã‰. .135
1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION The journey of a Black w oma n entering the workforce , advancing to achieve to become the first Black f emale to ever hold her position and thrive by demonstrating social and organizational influence , is paved with challenges, uncertainties and resolve . It is a journey that perhaps began as a little girl, learning early on, that she had something special to offer the world, and that her voi ce mattered . It may also have be en quite the opposite experience Ã‰that she was rendered many obstacles, ot hers conveying to her t hat her voi ce, in fact, did not matter, and so she set out to prove them wrong. The path may have included guides and mentors to encourage her , open doors and create opportunities . Regardless of the beginning, the journey tha t bring s us to today, to witness Black women on the ri se to a ttain level s of leadership , where their influence can yield s ocial and organizational change, is a shift in events to be celebrated, studied and shared. This study is inspired by my own corporate experience as a leader over a span of four decades, the experience s of Black women I have enjoyed as colleagues since the mid seventies , along with those I now have the privilege to mentor and coach. In 2017, a s Black women convene d to discuss advancement into the top ranks of leadership within their industry, the challenges being discussed remain ed similar to the challenges Black women have faced over the past three decades (Faw, 2017). Therefore, when ever we witness progress, I am motivated to ask the question: " W hat can we learn from our trailblazer's success? " As a result of this study, I have learn ed from several women who have succe ssfully navigated their systems and made it to the top, the conditions that made their succ ess possible; and from their collective journey , gather ed insights that inform the
2 messages we can impart to young Black girls, to Black women aspiring to positions of leadership, and to those organizational leaders who will help pave the way. Statement of the Problem Still I Rise You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I'll rise. Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom? Ã”Cause I walk like I've got oil wells Pumping in my living room. Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I'll rise. Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eye s? Shoulders falling down like teardrops, Weakened by my soulful cries? Does my haughtiness offend you? Don't you take it awful hard Ã”Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines Diggin' in my own backyard. You may shoot me with your words, You may cut me with your eyes, You may kill me with your hatefulness, But still, like air, I'll rise Ã‰ Ã‰ Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise . I rise. I rise. Maya Angelou , 1978
3 Maya Angelou (1928 2014), a prolific poet and resplendent voice of the twentieth century (who was also the first Black woman director in Hollywood), speaking in the first person, paints a vivid picture of the challenges Black women fa ce and the inherent strength we have available to overcome these obstacles and rise. This poem renders a powerful messa ge, in that it acknowledges Black women as the benefactors of a rich inheritance that fully equips us to meet challenges head on , with strength, resilience and grace. Still I Rise (Angelou, 1978) is an illustration of realism and inspiration , one that paint s the complete picture when Black women are able to tell their own story. The negative portrayal of Black women as marginalized and as victims (Allen, 2002), fails to equip and inspire young Black girls and women to see themselves as leaders (Parker, 2005) . Much of what has been documented about Black women, speaks to the obstacles of racism, sexism, and classism without honoring the leadership traits of organization, strength and resilience Black women have used to survive (Collins, 1991). In 2018 , it remains a challenge for young Black girls and women to read about their inherent gifts and talents , to be taught about their greatness, and to readily see Black women as their representatives in top levels of leadership. This study is designed to addr ess a combined need to identify the conditions that fostered the success of several Black women to become " firsts " in their positions of leadership , and share them. The problem of identifying Black women as leaders and role models is compound ed by three factors : 1) the relat ive small number of senior level positions occupied by Black women ; 2) the delay for Black women to be named to fill key position s ; and 3 ) the failure of traditional scholarship to study and address the accomplishments of Black women.
4 Limits to S uccess at Senior Levels The data presented in Fortune.com (Zarya, 2017), revealed that with the stepping down of Ursula Burns, former CEO of Xerox Corporation, there are no Black women CEOs currently leadi ng a Fortune 500 company. According to findings published in 2014 by the American Association of University Women, African American women made up only 1.5% of senior level executives in the private sector (Zarya, 2017). Additionally, r esearch data compiled by the Center for Talent Innovation (Hewlett, 2017) described Black women as "invisible" in corporate management. Their findings highlight ed the plight of Black women in leadership, reporting Black women as 47 % more likely to feel stalled in thei r career trajectory than their white counterparts; and 53 % more likely to feel their talents go unrecognized by their superiors. The absence of Black female leaders at the top reinforce s the uncertainty of knowing whether it is possible for Black women to achieve at all le vels. When we do not see Black women in senior level positions it is difficult to know if there is organizational readiness to embrace inclusive leadership (Parker, 2005) , or possibly a "concrete ceiling " (Jackson, 2012, p. 47) as described by the Glass Ceiling Commission referrin g to the isolation and invisibility experienced by Black women , limiting advancement and achievement . Delays in Opening New Doors In 2018 , despite preparation and readiness, the doors to acc ess and opportunity have been slow to open for Black women, leaving young Black girls with limited career paths to guide their aspirations. This delay, originating in slavery , exploitation , and the oppression of Black women as wor kers and laborers has resu lted in a slow start to "intellectual work" and a conspicuous absence of B lack women in leadership roles (Collins, 1991, p.6) . As more
5 Black women are named as firsts to serve in positions of leadership and authority , these breakthroughs expand opportunity, and increase visible role models. Since 2015, Black women h ave made several significant advances in arenas typically reserved for whites and /or males, such as: scholars, pilots and most notably in key cabinet positions. ImeIme A. Umana, 24 years old, was recently elected the first Black Female President of the Harvard Law Review. ImeIme is the 131 st President, elected to this position, 41 years after the first White woman, and 27 years after the first Black man, Barack Obama, who was elected to this prest igious position in 1990 (Seelye, 2017) . Also this past year, f or the first time in history, Captain Stephanie Johnson and First Office Dawn Cook, m ade an historic domestic flight, as the first African American cockpit crew at the helm of an Airbus A320 flying from Detroit to Las Vegas, one of Delta's Ã”mainline' flights (Mutzabaugh, 2017). In 2015, we witnessed the historic event of Lor etta Lynch being named the 84 th Attorney General to the United States, as successor to Eric Holder, becoming the first Black fe male to ever hold the esteemed position as the highest ranking lawyer to govern the land (Library, 2017) . The achievement of Black women becoming first s to hold these positions, signals to ot her Black women and girls, careers that have formerly been out of reach, are now an attainable reality. Traditional Scholarship and Telling Our S tory Another dimension of the problem, is the lack of traditional scholarship and documentation as it relates t o the achievement and successes of Black women (Collins, 1991). As an example, t he 2017 movie Hidden Figures , illustrates the lives of three Black women at NASA, who were critical in their function, yet remained behind the scenes contributors that went un recognized . Although these high achieving Black women existed, their stories and their contribution went undocumented and untold. Traditional research studies regarding
6 Black women have often focused on the barriers and challenges of being either a " victim " of racism and sexism, or a " marginalized other " (hooks, 1995 ). The voices of Black women and in tellectual thought have been frequently suppressed or omitted. According to Collins (1991), t he race bias of feminist thought, and the masculine bias i n Black social and politic al thought have made it seemingly difficult for Black women to do "intellectual work and have our ideas matter" (p. 5). T his intellectual and academic suppression has left a void in the literature, and given way to Black women's resistance and activism. The opportunity to tell our own stories is changing. Out of this suppression and void, Black women scholars are engaged in " emancipator y research ." As described by Allen (2002), emancipatory research is a call to Black researchers to use their research to stretch beyond the norms and confines of traditional stereotypes and negative labels; to find ways to use our own v oice(s) to tell our own stories . Much of what I found as illustrations of the strides and advances of Black women in leadership did not surface through searches of traditional scholarly publications and journals, but rather, in current, daily online publications. As more Black women are named to new posts and positions never held by a Black woman before, we have more stories to tell. In the words of our beloved Maya, we rise. Purpose of the Study The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study is to examine the lived experiences of Black women in significant positions of leadership: namely, President, Vice President, CEO, and Executive Director . Two significant conditions that help shape and define this study: 1) all of the participants are identified as the first Black woman to hold the position in their respective organization; and 2) their experience in the position , defined in this study as to thrive , demonstrate s leadership influence and impact on social and
7 organizational outcomes. This research study provides opportunities for the p articipants to reflect on their personal journeys: to uncover, perhaps discover their most memorable experiences, as well as how those experiences may have equipped them to land and function successfully in the positions of leadership authority they now co mmand. This study explore s the messages the partic i pants received early on, the support and help (or lack thereof) they received along the way , and the ir current organization's willingness to not only let them in, but invite them to help re shape, possibly redef ine the rules of engagement. The stories these women sh are in their own voice and the outcomes they highlight, offer evidence of achievement for young gir ls dreaming bigger dreams and illuminate pathways for young women entering the workforceÃ‰to see the light of role models who have gone before them. Research Questions The overarching ques tions guiding this study are : 1. ! What are the underlying condition s that contribute to becoming the first Black female to hold a position of leadership and authority? 2. ! What are the underlying conditions to enable Black women to thrive in their positions of leadership and authority? Significance of the Study This qualitative phenomenological dissertation study, explore s the use of narratives , and the power of the human story. As. Dr. Arnetha Ball (1998) describes her own investment as a researcher, I recogni ze it is of critical importance that we as Black researchers "invest ed in equity and reform" (p.153), find ways to give a greater platform to those whose voices
8 often go unsolicited and unheard. By asking Black women to share their experience, to recall their vivid and memorable experiences, we can learn from their conten t, insight s and wisdom to create institutional reform . To seek out the lived experience of Black Women who have achieved the esteemed position of being first in their current leadership role, offers significant opportunity to understand the conditions that contributed to their advancement and success. To hear the stories of Black women as they revisit and re flect on their own journey, create s the space for th eir voices to be valued and heard in a safe and supportive environment, and to open the pathway for "Others" (Ball, 1998 ) to listen actively and learn from these lived experiences. Definition of Terms Below are some definitions of important words that are used throughout the study . 1. ! Black Feminist Thought . Theories or specialized thought produced by African American women intellectuals designed to expr ess a Black women's standpoint. It empowers Black wo men for political activism (Collins, 1991) . 2. ! Inclusion . Learning Ã centered; curious. To value the perspectives and contribution of all people. To invite participation in dialogue and decision making. To resist and remove all traditional standards, policies and practices that reinforce dominance and perpetuate marginalization. (Senge, 1990, Parker, 2005 ). 3. ! Self Efficacy . Belief in one's ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task; confidence (Bandura, 1977) . 4. ! Third Space . A paradigm shift, to create a new vision organized around robust and equity oriented criteria; redesigning the marketplace reforms that employ sameness as fairness, and implement the color blind practices of English only, one size fits all curricula, polic ies and practices (Gutierrez, 2008) . 5. ! Thrive . 1. to grow vigorously: flourish; 2. to gain in wealth or possessions: prosper; 3. t o progress toward or realize a goal despite or because of circumstances (Merriam Webster, 2017).
9 Conclusion In 2018 , Black women, despite demonstrating great preparation and readiness, continue to remain challenged to reach the ranks of senior leadership in a var iety of fields. This study solicit s the narratives of six Black women who have achieved the position of becoming the first Black fem ale to hold their current posi tion in th eir respective organiz ation. T hese leaders' collective lived experience, offer a pathway to cultivate awareness and action both in the lives of Black girls and women, and in those committed to their advancement and success.
10 CHAPTER II REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE The purpose of this chapter is to provide a review of selected literature that informs the experiences of Black females as young girls, and women advancing to become the first Black female to hold their position s of leadership and authority within their respective organizations. The critical component of this review is to search traditional and non traditional sources, to exp lore the topics of : Self E fficacy, Professional Developm ent , and Inclusive Orga nizational Culture . Much of the literature that has been developed t o tell the story of African American wome n in this country, has been formed and forged out of a negative identity. To be considered marginalized, or the representation of a myriad of stereotypes, fails to tell our story accurately, or completely. The primary goal for this review of literature i s to identify the works that constitute emancipatory communication researc h : to stretch beyond the norms and confines of traditional stereotypes and negative labels, to produce evidence of strength and resilience in Black wo men (Allen, 2002). My goal is t o discover powerful illustrations and depictions presented in the research conducted and delivered by Black women; experiences, insights and practical wisdom gathered by listening and engaging "co researchers" (Allen, 2002 , p. 27 ). This body of literature create s new knowledge by inviting Black women to tell their own stori es, in a trusted and safe space, "to improve Black women's lives" (Allen, 2002, p.22). Theoretical Framework The discovery of Black Feminist Standpoint Theory as a lens for my research is both illuminating and liberating. The work of Patricia Hill Collins (1991), and her boldness to
11 help shape a credible space where the experiences of Black women are not only shared , but viewed as legitimate, paves the way for the creation of new knowledge . Feminist S tandpoint Theory says if we ask Black women directly, they can tell us more accurately and authentically about their experience s using their own voices. Collins declares , " my hope is that others who were formerly and are currently silenced will find their voices. I for one, certainly want to hear what they have to say" (Collins, 1991, p. xv). As a collective of researchers, scholars , and society at large, we stand to learn an d gain from the experiences of Black women when they are encouraged to speak , and their voices expand the current bounds of traditional scholarship. Validating Our E xperiences Collins , and other sister scholars such as Allen and Parker have used their research to recognize and validate first person experience, poetry, conversations, art or any medium where Black women's experiences may be chronicled to supplement the information cited in traditional academic journals. This more inclusive framework invi tes researchers and learners to be curious, and to explore the diversity, complexity and range of experience among all lev els and classes of Black women. The stories of countless Black women that are overlooked or untold, are necessary for our knowledge b ase to be complete. It's 2018 , and a unique time in our history; the stories surrounding Black women as leaders are changing. The Power of Both/And In addition to validating non traditional sources, Black Feminist Thought highlights the "distinctive ang l e of vision" (Collins, 1991, p. 12) of being both Black and female. As more Black women rise to achieve positions of leadership and authority, this both/and perspective uniquely qualifies "the outsider within" (Collins, p. 12), to offer insights that are
12 often "invisible to natives" (Allen, 1998, p. 576) ; those vested in and immersed in the practices of dominant institutions ( usually , but not exclusive to White men) . hooks (1995 ) goes on to say: " It is essential that Black women recognize the special vantage point our marginality gives us and make use of this perspective to envision and create a counterhegemony " (p. 282 ). As Black Feminist Standpoint Theory and Black Feminist Thought redefine our forged role as "outsider" and a liability, to becoming a valued resource to e xpose domination and oppression, changes and shifts for Black women as leaders begin to emerge. Racism, Sexism and Classism Black Feminist Thought acknowledges the undercurrents of racism, sexism and classism, and has as one of its primary tenets to "study domination and oppression " (Allen, 2002, p. 25). Much like an iceberg, these barriers of interpersonal and institutional isms may loom beneath the surface, difficult to see, b ut nonetheless, their effects are present. The research of Allen (1998 2011 ), Collins (1991), Parker ( 2005), and the recent dissertation studies of Jackson (2012), and Ravello (2016), all contribute to the body of knowledge as their findings "situate Blac k women's lived experiences in local contexts, while connecting them to broader social and institutional issues" (Allen, 2002, p. 26). The insights and information gleaned from the se scholars inform: 1) the messages Black women received what others said about them and what they had to embrace or reject to keep moving forward; 2) who did or didn't co me alongside to help them navigate, translate and "learn the ropes" (Allen, 2002); and 3) some of t he strategies employed to flourish in spit e of gendered racism in their work environments. Black Feminist Thought gives Black women self defined
13 "concrete examples to emulate" and "skills and strategies to help us generate practical wisdom" (Allen, 2002, p. 26). Conceptual Framework: The Three P illars Based on a review of the literature, three pillars form the foundation f or this study, namely: 1. Self E fficacy; 2. Profession al Developmen t; and 3. Organizational Culture . While many factors may contribute to Black women leaders reaching their positions to become firsts, the messages they receive to help shape a strong sense of confidence and belief, organizational leaders who provide mentoring, support and developmental opportunities, as well as organizationa l cultures that are pliable and in a state of readiness to foster inclusion and welcome their leadership , are strong contributing factors. T he purpose of this literature review is to illustrate the significance of these three domains and the conditions th at each contributes to help form a trajectory for Black women to achieve and thrive in their leadership positions. Pillar I. Self E fficacy The first pillar, Self Efficacy, focuses on the messages receiv ed and the formation of beliefs in the early development of young Black girls . Self efficacy is a critical component in the formation and foundation of beliefs. Psychologi st Albert Bandura, in his work and research on Social Learning Theory (1977) defined self efficacy as belief in on e's ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task. Based on this de finition , self efficacy can play a major role in how one approaches, or if one is even willing to approach certain goals, tasks and challenges. According to Bandura (1977) , self efficacy comes from four sources: 1) perfo rmance accomplishments ; 2) vicarious experience; 3) verbal persua sion ; and 4) physiological states . For example, Bandura suggests confidence is boosted when an
14 individual learns to perform a task suc cessfully; successful completion of an activity to learn a new skill is performance accomplishment. Vicarious experience is t he power of observing someone similar to oneself succeed; this can raise the observer's beliefs, that they too have the capabiliti es to master comparable activities. Verbal persuasion is described by Bandura as rec eiving verbal encouragement from others, which can help people overcome self doubt. The fourth source, m oods , emotional states and the effects of stress , Bandura posits can generally impact how a person feels about their abilities in a particular situation. Identi ty formation and messages . Young children learn to make meaning about their world and themselves from the adults around them. The early messages received from trusted adults contribute importantly to the child's perception and understanding of self (Vygotsky, 1978). There are several primary sources for building character and confidence in addition to the messages received at home, specifically: school, the lar ger community, social organizations, places of worship and other significant role models. The foll owing is an illustration of how Collins (1991) recalls messa ges promoting confidence, were formed in her young life: When my turn came to speak, I delivered my few lines masterfully, with great enthusiasm and energy. I loved my part because I was Spring, the season of new life and hope. All of the grown ups told me how vital my part was and congratulated me on how well I had done. Their words and hugs made me feel that I was important and that what I thought, and felt, and accomplished mattered (Collins, 1991, p. xi). As Collins shares her childhood memory, and we recount the words of this little girl, this little Black girl, we hear how she is affirmed by t he adults th at help make up her community. The work of Lev Vygotsky (1978) stresses the fundamental role of social
15 interaction in the development of cognition, as he believed strongly that community plays a central role in the process of "making meaning." P art of making meaning, has to do with how we as children, as little girls in the formative stages of cognitive development, learn what to believe about ourselves. Vygotsky's Social Development Theory (1978) places great emphasis on the role of adults in the development of the c hild, one example being MKO ( more knowledgeable o ther ). While MKOs aren't always or necessarily adults, when it comes to shaping a child's self esteem, the words and affirmation of pare nts, teachers, and other religious and community leaders (or lack thereof) , can have significant impact . Shaping aspirations and beliefs . Sociocultural processes help shape one's understanding of the world, and "identities are co constructed in micro pra ctices enacted with macrosocial systems" (Allen, 2005, p. 42). S haring a reflection from her own personal development, Allen (2005) demonstrates how her aspirations and beliefs were shaped by the affirming adults around her: My development as a scholar began at an early age as I processed gendered/raced/classed messages about who I was or could be... During interactions with teachers, community members, family members, and peers, I learned I was very intelligent. These key pe rsons in my life always expected me to get good grades and affirmed me when I did. Ã‰the distinction of being the only colored girl in those advanced classes helped me feel unique, exceptional, special, remarkable well you get my drift. Ã‰ when teachers and others labeled me as smarter than my race peers, and they interacted with me as if I was as capable as the white kids in my classes, they helped form the foundation for my construction as a scholar (p. 42).
16 Like Allen, Jackson (2012), discovered in her st udy , the importance of positive s elf image in the lives of the leaders she interviewed . She describes t he significance of positive self image formed within the Black community, as preparation to deal with "predominant cultural organizations" (p. 31). Ban dura's social cognitive theory (1977) reminds us that based on one's beliefs, largely shaped by the external world, children form images of what they can and cann ot do, and learn through others what's possible to achi eve. The se beliefs become the energy source to e ither propel or discourage a young child's confidenc e to dream and live boldly. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Li ve the life that you've imagined, a popular quote by H enry David Thoreau, offers rousing motivation . T he question becomes, what would a person have observe d, been told, and what would they have to believe, for this quote to have meaning and serve as a positive catalyst ? The literature and research clearly demonstrates the re is power in affirmation. Generative learning . Although beliefs begin to form in early childhood as children face a broad range of experiences, tasks, and situations, the development of self efficacy doe s not end during youth but continues to evolve throughout life as people acquire new skills, experiences, and understanding. Significantly, the people who touch us and who teach us have great opportunity and responsibility in building self ef ficacy. Ima gine a world where teachers learn from their students , and the mutual confidence building that might arise. Ball (2009 ), describes the creativity and opportunity to grow students and teachers with generative learning: I use the term generativity to refer to the teachers' ability to continually add to their understanding by connecting their personal and professional knowledge with the knowledge that they gain from their students to produce or originate knowledge that
17 is useful to them in pedagogical problem solving and in meeting the educational needs of their students (p. 47). The educational process and interaction between a teacher and a student can empower, or marginalize, oppress and discriminate. In searching current day, online resources, I found an impassioned plea from a mother who also happens to be an educator, as she describes aptly, the power and the responsibility teachers have to shape the self esteem and self efficacy of young Black girls: Dear Educator, please SE E MY DAUGHTER. Do not look pa st her. Do not look through her. Look at her. Teach her. Challenge her. Learn with her. Remind her that she is more than enough. Be honest with her. If you do, she will learn that you are a trusted part of her community, and she will know that you carry th at lauded responsibility eac h time she enters your classroom (Coes, 2017). In summary, t he foundational pillar of self effica cy, ill uminates the significant contribution of others (parents, teachers, religious and community leaders), to its formation and development in young Black girls. The messages of encouragement and affirmation let them know their voice not only matters, but is valuable. The ability to dream and pursue goals, bec omes more viable and attainable as they hear others cheering them o n, and seeing those who look like them , aspiring and achieving success. In the words of the Little Engine That Could, self efficacy says: "I think I canÃ‰I think I can" (Piper, 1930) . Pillar II: Professional Development The second pillar, Professional Development, encom passes some of the key elements Black women have described as institutionally necessary to their success; put differently,
18 these elements have been described as essential, and are often listed as reasons for no t being able to successfully advance within their organizational system s (Giscombe & Mattis, 2002). For the purpose of this review the focus areas include: mentoring , role models and informal networks. A ccess and advancement . Profe ssional D evelopment, al so referred to as l eadership development, represents a broad range of activities, trainings and developmental opportunities for the purposes of advancement. The formula for success in any given organization is dire ctly tied to the culture of the organizat ion, and is often abstract, and therefore dif ficult to concretely define. Schein (2010) describes observable events and underlying forces that depict an organization's culture , such as : 1) rules of the game; and 2) group norms (p.14) . T hese elements of culture are significant because they are often unwritten and unspoken; they have to be discoveredÃ‰or shared. Based on Schein's research, we can readily observe who has insider information, and who as Collins (1991) describes, is an "outsider within" (p.11 ) the organization. Professional or leadership development offers both the challenge and the opportunity to gain information and access. In all of the literature I reviewed, one fact is clear: as long as the organization remains White male dominated and hierarchical, Black women do not start out as insiders. One aim of Professional Development is to learn the "rules of the game" and how to fit in the existing system; the underlying isms racism, sexism and the stereotypical bias that ensues, remain part of the obstacle course on the way to the top. The traditional hierarchical systems established on power and control , set up "norms" that are typically reflective of dominant cultural values and are often only communicated with those who have insider privi lege. Where competitive performance standards inhibit information sharing,
19 reciprocity, and prevent shared leadership (Brown, 2017) , how do Black women gain acceptance and en trance to becoming an insider? For newcomers to rise through the corporate rank s to become leaders with responsibility and respect, requires cultural and social capital (Bourdieu, 1986) gained through mentors and networks. Mentor s, models and networks. Throughout the literature, mentorship is consistently identified as a significant element in professional development, paving the way to suc cess ( Brown, 2014; Giscombe & Mattis, 2002; Roberts, 2017). Mentorship is a relationship . Mentors are trusted advisors . Mentors have navigated the political landscape, and in the trus ted role of counselor or teacher, quite simply, they show their chosen and selected mentees, the way . In a recent online newsletter, madamenoire.com (2017), highlighting a successful Black female CMO (Chief Ma rketing Officer), Ericka Pittman offers this personal perspective: The lack of guidance, sponsorship, and mentorship at the executive level creates an even greater challenge for women to navigate the political landscape of executive ascension. In any game there are rules of engagement Ã you have to lea rn how to play in order to win. Not many women in positions of power are able to acquire the tools needed to navigate the rules of the game. Those of us that do receive mentoring tend to succeed, however few (Brown, 2017, para. 5). What remains compelling about Pittman's observations, is, they corroborate my experience as a corporate leader over thirty years ago. As a direct result of the mentorship I received, that's how I learned the rules of the game, and as Ms. Pittman describes, it remains necessary t o "reach back to work with young women in schools and in junior level positions to help them understand how to navigate corporate environments" (para. 10). Mentorship in
20 full effect is about sharing the insider knowledge and privilege those in top leaders hip positions have access to, and to bring other young Black women along. As long as the fundamental tenets and framework for organizational effectiveness are determined by White male hierarchical standards, gaining access, information , and the tools to s ucceed, remain a pr ivileged commodity. Allen (2000) states: "Mentors and sponsors are particularly important sources for learning the ropes in complex roles such as faculty or executive positions . Some research shows that Black women often are not involved in mentoring relationships " (p. 196). In support of Allen's claims, there is additional research to suggest that when Black women are in successful mentoring relationships it is most often with other Black women ( Brown , 2014; Giscombe & Mattis, 2 002). Given the relatively small number of Black women in e xecutive leadership positions, the availability of same race , same gender mentors are limited. Although the supply is greater, Thomas ( 1989) , suggests that White men and Black women may still be caught in the historical effects of racial taboos, hindering their ability to build cross race, and cross gender career enhancing relationships , free of suspicion and or criticism . Currently, t he need for mentors and advocates remains an area of concern fo r Black women as cited by Sylvia Hewlett, Founder and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation and contributor to the Huffington Post. In a recent online post "Hidden Figures ," Hewlett reports her organization's research findings : And, in 2017, d espite be ing hungry for leadership black women are invisible to corporate management: they are 47 percent more likely than white women to report feeling stalled in their career trajectory, 53 percent more likely to feel their talents aren't recognized by their supe riors, and only 11 percent have sponsors or senior
21 ad vocates . Sponsors are there to help black women navigate the barriers and fight t o have their voices to be heard (Hewlett, 2017 , para. 5 ). Black women, like their White female counterparts, need role mo dels to show them achieving success at new levels is possible, and mentors to show them how to get there. While the value and need for role models and mentors is very clear, what's not clear , is how does one go about attracting a mentor? The latest Smith Alumnae Quarterly (Winter, 2016 2017), has as its cover page: "Mentors for Life." This predominantly White female liberal arts college, which remains all female, dedicates much of this current issue to demonstrating the power of mentorship and the lifelo ng relationships, often as friends , that ensue. Students, recent graduates, and other Black alumnae , receive the same guidance; guidance taken as belief, and an expectation to take into the workplace and the world. However, having this expectation become a reality, often looks different for some . As previously cited, t he literature suggests for Black women, mentors happen most easily, and successfully, when there are other Black women to mentor them. Consistently, the data researched and reported in several studies (Brown, 2014; Giscombe & Mattis, 2002; and Jackson, 2012), demonstrated Black women recognize th e need for mentors , models and networks , but continue to struggle to benefit from these sources of information, access and support. Two reasons cited in the literature include, 1) the ongoing battle of being perceived, and viewed through the limiting lens of stereotypes (Ravello, 2016) ; and 2) homophily, the preference and comfort of working with someone simila r to oneself, and the tendency to receive more affective support from similar others (Allen, 2000) . A s a consequence of homophily, Allen (2000) highlights two significant implica tions for Black women in White male dominated organizations: 1) White male
22 l eaders at the top may be less likely to se lect them as mentees; and 2) in the absence of few (or any) Black women at the top, there are limited models to look to and to be chosen by as the Ã”good people' in whom to invest" (p. 196 ). The research and experiences of Black women leaders confirm the value and necessity to have mentors, role models, and networks to successfully learn the rules of the game and navigate their way to top of their organization. The challenge and the opportuni ty exists within the realm of Professional Development for Black women to be perceived as effective contributors and viable candidates for leadership, and as a result receive the information, access and support more easily afforded to their White (male and female) counterparts. In a recent online post in the Harvard Business Review, Tjan (2017) reminds us mentoring brings value both to the leader and their protÂŽgÂŽ: At its highest level, mentorship is about being Ã”good people' and having the right Ã”good p eople' around us Ã‘ individuals committed to helping others become fuller versions of who they are (Tjan, 2017) . Throughout the literature, mentorship, clearly adds value to the mentor, the mentee and the organization, as s uccessful leaders become more successful by developing additional leaders. If mentoring presumably generates such positive outcomes, what permeates the experience of Black women, to alter their course, such that the vast majority continue to report they a re without senior level mentors and advocates? In the end, it is critical to answer these questions: 1) what are the factors that influence a leader's sense of who the " good people " are , and in whom to invest; and 2) what does it take for Black women with the double jeopardy of race and gender, to become one of the good people? Professional De velopment is a vehicle to build leaders . B y making the rules of the game explicit , and
23 access to mentors, models and networks available, Professional Development at its best is the anecdote to insider privilege. Pillar III. Organizational Culture The thir d pillar, Organizational Culture , represents the systemic organizational challenges and opportunities for Black women to excel as leaders . In spite of the barriers that Black women face in society and in their workplace settings, they have a legacy of survival, resistance , and change to empower them. Traditional organizations frequently perpetuate standard s and values that diminish the contribution of Black women (Parker, 2005) . To rise to achieve levels of success, Black women must resist the dynamics of power that remain in place to d efine and limit them , and reclaim the inherent value of their own voice. Organizations willing to expand and change as a result of fostering inclusion and welcoming leadership that both looks and sounds different, embolden Black women with power and authority. In this section I will explore the impact of organizational culture to: 1) communicating social identity; 2) having set practices members must learn to navigate effectively; and 3) releasing and re defining former practices to be inclusive. As Black women achieve positions of leadership and authority, to thr ive is to have the ability to help shape and forge a new space ; using one's leadership power and influence to bring about social and organizational change. Communicating Social Identity. Organizations are complex systems that help shape and reinforc e the social identity of its members. The process of "c ommunicating" uses language and organizational p ractices to inform members who they are in relation to others, the right way to behave , an d provides conditioning to embrace specific beliefs without question (Allen, 2011, p. 12) . " Newcomers " eager to be accepted and to belong, are given
24 scripts that define acceptable patterns of beh avior and speech for being a member of the community (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p.100 ) . Daily patterns of interaction and discourse, readily identify and affirm the position of both insiders and outsid ers (Schein, 2010) . Together, the members of the organizational community take their places and promote the values and standards of the dominant culture as absolute (Allen, 2000) . Historically , many organizational structures, system s and procedures have served to maintain societal ideologies such as: a pyramid struct ure with power flowing from the top; the stratification of social identity groups, resulting in some groups having more privilege and opportunity than another group; gender based assumptions and expectations about roles, placing men at the top; whiteness viewed as superior to all other races; an ideology that fails to acknowledge the advantage that comes with accumulated wealth, knowledge, and/or con nections (Bordas, 2007 ). For the new member joining an organiza tion, and discovering that it foundationall y promotes ideologies contrary to one's own social identity , can be daunting and debilitating. Such an environment potentially creates a lose lose for Black women and other members of non dominant groups: they must either challenge the status quo and rema in in resistance mode, or give up their sense of self to buy in to the norms and messages espoused by the organization. In daily interactions and everyday talk, " t he rules of right" (Allen, 2011, p. 28) emerge to further normalize , solidif y and embed these power relationships. Members of society and organizations routinely and robotically invoke rules of right with statements and sentiments like: Ã” that' s t he way we do things around here, ' Ã” these ar e standard operating procedures' Ã” or it's just common sense .' T his taken for granted knowledge serves the interests of some, and minimizes and/or subordinates
25 those of other s (Allen, 2011, p. 28). This "taken for granted" power dynamic in traditi onal, white male dominated, hierarchical organizational systems , gives way to stereotypes and micro aggressions (Ravello, 2016 ) . In the absence of any personal knowledge or relationship , controlling images and denigrating messages, often delivered casually, go unchecked, unquestioned, and can limit the contribution and perceived value of Black women in the workplace, as standard operating procedure. Allen (1998) , an esteemed scholar and leader at The University of Colorado, describes her experienc e of micro insults and micro invalidation as a Black woman: I have experienced numerous situations that reflect the interlocking nature of racism and sexism, or both. For instance, I have encountered the attitude that I was a Ã”twofer,' someone hired becaus e administrators could count me as a female hire and as a racial minority. Not long after I assumed my tenure track position, one of my colleagues told me that someone said I was an affirmative action hire and not qualified for my job. Yet another person r eported that someone in my department said I was not a good writer. These flagrant and subtle messages reveal oppressive attitudes that question my credibi lity as a member of the academy (pp. 578 579). These and other oppressive behaviors and beliefs help to maintain the power, authority and control of the dominant group to the exclusion of others. Learning the ropes and leading . For Black women the process of "learning the ropes" defined as workplace socialization and integration (Allen, 2000, p. 177), may include forfeiting personal comfort and choice regarding, hairstyle, dress and other markings of outward appearance. To fit, may mean forfeiting personal freedoms and cultural expressions,
26 to not be viewed as militant, mammy, matriarch or any other debilitating stereotypes (Ravello, 2016) . The additional effort and energy spent in interpreting an d internalizing the preferences and standards of the dominant culture are above and beyond, and can take away from performing the duties of the work assignment. Some authentic expressions of showing emotion and empathy for others, culturally viewed as strengths, may now be assessed as w eakness. Dr. Patrice Buzzanell, whose research focuses primarily on gendered organizational communication writes: Expectations and consequences for similar behaviors enacted by whites or people of color, and women and men, are vastly different. Women of c olor may find themselves second guessing or questioning what they know to be true or being s ubjected to others' assessments (Buzzanell, 2000, p. 258). Despite these and other challenges, Black women continue to rise and advance to executive levels of le adership, to become heads of academic institutions and political leaders of the land. It's important to note, that although our recognition has been delayed, our abilities are not new. As part of her research to re envision organizational leadership from the perspectives of African American women executives , Parker (2005) reminds us of the leadership contributions that Black women have made throughout this country's history. Often carried out behind the scenes and frequently unrecognized as leadership, " creative resistance and community building in slavery, the civil rights movement, and grassroots community organizing to protect their children from gang violence and crime" (p. xiv) , are just a few examples of the results and impact that have been demonst rated when Black women as leaders of change, are at the helm.
27 Black women by virtue of their experience and their resilience have carved out and created meaningful leadership roles . hooks (2014 ) advocates, women of color should prove to be valuable resources for acquirin g a variety of perspectives and narratives about how oppression operates and about how w omen resist oppression . Regardless of preparation and readine ss, until organizations re think and re establish t raditions of dominant group privi lege , many of these contributions and contribu tors go unrecognized. Inclusive organizations. The changing demographic of today's workforce, technological advances and globalization are just a few of the factors contributing to a re definition and re envisioning of effective leadership. For organizations to grow, to be competitive and succeed in a global marketplace, they must re think and re define how best to attract, retain and utilize their human resources. The ability to attract and retain a growing population of diverse leaders and learners is no longer suffici ent as a response to government initiated directives to address discrimi nation and inequality , or as a benevolent feel good exercise to correct past, societal wrongdoing. For organiza tions to succeed in the marketplace and sustain a competitive edge towards growth, creating a culture that will foster the success and growth of their inherent talent, is an economic imperative; it is the core of a successful business model. Parker (2005) describes a need for different skills in 21 st century leadership such as: collaboration, teamwork, and coalition building within and among organizations. She posits that in order for leadership to develop these different skills they must also change: The se new approaches to organizing point to the need for new norms and values such as concern for the common good, diversity and pluralism in structures and
28 participation, client orientation, and consensus oriented policy making process more relevant to the p ostindustrial era. Leadership in the context of 21 st century organizing must be viewed as a process that facilitates the development of these more relevant norms (p. xiii). The research findings of Pa rker (2005) clearly demonstrates the inherent strengths of the African American Women Execut ives she studied are directly reflective of the 21 st century skills organizations need to be competitive ; the skills of collaboration, open communication, empowerment, teamwork and inclusion. This shift in awareness to create a more inclusive environment, provides an opportunity for non dominant 1 voices to be recognized rather than diminished, and for Black women as leaders to surface and excel. Additional models . As organizations recognize the inherent value and compet itive advantage of re thinking and releasing traditional practices and policies to preserve the norms of the dominant culture, the opportunity to create organizational cultures that are creative and inclusive, emerge. Bordas (2007) introduces an organizat ional paradigm "Egalitarian Pluralism" and Gutierrez (2008), describes " Third Space , " as organizational system s that not only learn, but shift to foster cultural inclus ion as necessary and valid. Both of these model s draw heavily upon the socio cultural theory of Vygotsky (1978) . W hen we move beyond the defined limitations of either/or thinking, and move into the space of both/and , we enter the space of inclusion. Inclusive organizations represent a significant shift fro m the traditional nor ms of hierarchical authority. As such, inclusive organizations are intentional opportunities 1 The use of the term non dominant is borrowed from Kris Gutierrez (2008) as a replacement for the more common terms "minority," "diverse" or "of color," to capture the issue of power and power relations in addition to difference. To cultivate the veritable contributions specifically of Black women, as an organization shifts to be more inclusive, it will also need to address inherent power differentials over time .
29 for great creativity and great possibility. The illustrations o f cultural inclusion and multidimensional thinking as depicted by Bordas (200 7) and Gutierrez (2008) can be witnessed in the workplace through such activities as: shared visioning, collective learning, collaborative problem solving and other for ms of dialogue, where all voices are heard and individual perspectives are both invited and recognized. In these activities we see evidence of the theoretical roots of Vygotsky. Both the learner and the organization are transformed by the systems of interaction and the intentional creation of a new culture. W hen organizations shift traditio nal hierarchical paradigms , inclusiveness isn't a matter of decoding and maintaining the existing organizational standard of whi te male dominance and privilege, namely, to require non dominant leaders to assimilate. Inclusive organizations that seek to establish a new space, no longer exalt stereotypes, tolerate implicit or unconscious bias , or maintain the traditional views of what is considered to be "the rules of right" (Allen, 2011, p.28) behavior, norms and values. Organizations that model the creation of cultural inclusion, invite, welcome and incorporate the contributions of all its members. In this space, Black women as leaders are viewed with inherent strength and achieve a greater possibility to contribute and thrive. Conclusion The opportunity for Black women to advance as leaders has been explored in the literature through the lens of: Self Efficacy, Professional Develo pment and Organizational Culture . The messages received by the larger society often paint a negative picture of Bl ack women and fail to honor their legacy of survival, resistance and change. Black Feminist Thought and Feminist Standpoint Theory empower Black women to share and validate their
30 experiences through their individual and collective voice. This is the work of activism and emancipation. To successfully compete and meet the changing demands of globalization, organizations are moving away from the traditional hierarchical standards of dominance that favor whiteness and maleness with undue privilege. The shift to foster inclusion creates an impetus for the inherent leadership skills of Black women, formerly discounted and diminished, to be recognized and valued. O rganizations forging a new identity bas ed on the concept of cultural inclusion , offer Black women (and all non dominant leaders and learners) a freedom to create, versus fit and react. In organizations where 21 st century skills such as collaboration, open communication, empowerment, teamwork and inclusion are valued and incorporated, there is increasi ng evidence of Black women as leaders, as firsts, making strides to contribute and thrive; to use their influence to bring about social and organizational change.
31 CHAPTER III RESEARCH METHODS As researchers we want our work to improve Black wome n's lives. We aim to describe, celebrate and enhance African American women's communicative lives. We should discover how Black women presently and previously use(d) communication not only to cope, but also to flourish. As we accentuate the positive, we wi ll continue to free ourselves from effects of gendered racism because we will hav e concrete examples to emulate. Brenda J. Allen, Goals for Emancipatory Communication Research on Black Women, (2002, p. 26) Methodology The purpose of this research is to explore the lived experiences of Black wo men leaders who have reached a s enior level 2 at their current institution and most importantly, have the esteemed recognition of being the first Black female to hold that position. Given th e purpose, a quali tative phenomenological design offers the desired research method, and was selected for this study. Phenomenology as defined by Husserl (1970), is a philosophy and an approach to research that treats personal realities as absolute data and the place to be gin; capturing lived experience is viewed as concrete and is both inductive and descriptive. van Manen (1997) describes phenomenology as the study of human experience from the perspective of those being studied; as a philosophy that assumes true meaning c an only be explored thrugh the participant's voice. For these reasons, I chose a phenomenological design because it both values and validates the experience of the participants, by placing them at the center of the study. Black women are frequently obser ved and described from the lens and perspective of others. As described in Chapter II, most traditional scholarship describes the experiences of
32 Black women as victims, marginalized or frequently dysfunctional. Phenomenology provides a research approach to bring alive the voices of Black women in the first person and to excavate their interpretation and meaning of their lived experience. This research methodology preserves and honors the use of stortytelling and personal experience; essentially to use th e voice of each participant as an authentic means to discover and interpret meaning of what it is like to become a first and to thrive in posit i ons of leadership and authority. The goal of the researcher is describe the phenomenon, in this case to thrive , refraining from any theory or hypothesis, simply to learn from the perspectives of the participants involved (Groenewald, 2004). For these reasons, phenomenology offers a research methodology that affirms African American women's ways of kn owing (Wilson & Washington, 2007 ). The focus of this research is to explore and identify the common core elements that surface in the lived experi ences and the stories of Black w omen who have not merely survived but continue to thrive in their respective organizational contexts. A desired outcome of this research study is to create a depth of understanding, specifically: 1) the meaning of their individual journeys; and 2) the common themes that emerge to inform and illuminate a path for young Black girls and women aspir ing to positions of leadership, and for organizational leaders that want to commit to building inclusive, collaborative cultures, to foster and promote the success of Black women. According to Waters (2016), "the goal of qualitative phenomenological research is to describe a Ã”lived experience' of a phenomenon" (p. 1). The phenomenon under study, is the experience of being the "first" Black woman to hold a position and thriving in that position. 2 Senior leve l constitutes: CEO, President, Vice President, Executive Director or otherwise denotes the highest position in the specific field.
33 Thriving is define d as flourishing; leaders who have transcended fitting the pre existing organizational mold to become co creators influencing social and organizational change. This study seek s to capture the stories of several Black women leaders and describe their experi ence of what it means to them to be first in their position. My initial consideration was to determine if this qualitative study best fit the case study method or phenome nology. Creswell (2007) offers this distincti on: Whereas a narrative study report s the life of a single individual , a phenomenological study describes the meaning for several individuals of their lived experiences of a concept or a phenomenon. Phenomenologists focus on describing what all participants have in common as they experience a phenomenon (p. 58). While the accomplishments of each of these women is significant and sufficient to warrant an individual narrative or case study, my focus is to look horizontally across their collective experiences to capture and describe the essen ce of their common lived experience which fit better with a phenomenological study . Another significant element of phenomenological research is its being rooted in philosophy, described as a "search for wisdom" (Creswell, 2007, p. 58). Since the particip ants are all Black women, a phenome nological study support s the search for wisdom as Allen (2002) describes when we tell our stories: namely, "generate practical wisdom, develop positive models Black women can emulate and embellish, and help Black women to successfully negotiate everyday interactions" ( p. 27). By using a phenomenological research design as the methodo logy for this study, my clear goal is to invite participants to reconstruct their experience and reflect on its meaning;
34 and in so doing, make the space for each of them to engage in an "act of attention" (Seidman, 2013, p. 19) the opportunity to explore and mine the meaning of their lived experience. Participant Sample The par ticipants for this study were identified by convenience and snowball sampling methods. The tar get audience for this study me t the following criteria: 1) r ecognized as the first Black woman to hold their current position; 2) r acially and culturally self identify as Black, African American; 3) rear ed and educated in the U.S.; 4) hold a senior level leadership position, having a job title as CEO, President, Vice President, Executive Director, or the undisputed recognition as the highest position in their respective field 3 ; 5) c ollectively represent a geographical and indus trial diverse mix of career fie lds; 6) c urrently live and wo rk full time within the U.S. The participants were actively solicit ed from my personal network, and by those who were identified by members of my network as viable candidates meeting the criteri a. From t his sample I was able to identify six African American female "firsts" in their positions to participate in this study. A s the researcher for this study I conducted two 90 minute semi structured interviews with each of the senior level leaders who agree d to participate . I identified and select ed participants with whom I had no previous relationship, or minimally, a distant relationship. My connection to each participant, exist ed as a basis of recommendation through my professional network, su ggestions and introductions made by colleagues, affiliation through previous work experience, and the Smith Alumnae Network . In all cases, I had a distant role, 3 In order to reach my desired sample size, the criteria to cur rently be in the position was waived; as an alternative, the p articipant may have vacated the position within the past 12 months by self election, such as retirement, and /or a change in the political admi nistration. The participants were high performing and thriving prior to vacating their position .
35 meaning: I had no daily contact or role in any of the work sites; and where a personal connection previously existed, curren tly, there was no frequent contact. I share a commo nality with the participants in this study and acknowledge my bias as a Black woman leader, who has been the "first" in my e xecutive position. Give n the tenets of Black Feminist Th ought, my shared experience added passion and drive to colle ct these stories in integrity and to remain curious to see what themes would emerge. As the literature reminds us (Collins, 1991), the stories of Black women have either been eliminated from scholarship or frequently depicted through the lens of a myriad of negative stereotypes. To that end, although my story adds to the kn owledge base, my primary goal was to honor these women for their willingness to participate, and to capture their stories without overlay or bias. To address m y bias, I was conscientious to do two things: 1) "bracket" my experience, " epoche , in which investigators set aside their experiences as much as possible, to take a fresh perspective towar d the phenomenon under examinati on" (Moustakas, 1994, p. 34); 2) remain a curious learner, researcher, with the very clear purpose to listen effectively, ask deep questions, that invite exploration and interest to the participant, and remain engaged "to e nrich lived experience by mining its meaning " (Seidman, 2013, p. 18). Data Collection The source for data collection consist ed of one on one in depth interviews with each participant. There were two rounds of inte rviews, each one was conducted within a 90 minute timeframe. All of the interviews were face to face; five were conducted in person, and the sixth was conducted using Zoom videoconference technology. All of the interviews were audio recorded and transcribed, yielding 350 pa ges of raw data.
36 The initial contact with these leaders was made through an informal inquiry to det ermine their interest to participate in this research study. Once initial interest was established, I follow ed up with a formal letter to describe the study in more detail, express ed my interest in them personally to be come a selected participant, reviewed general guidelines and expectations (i.e. time requirements for participation, two ninety minute interviews) to enable them to make an informed decision. Upon receiving IRB approval, I schedule d dates and times for both interviews with the participant directly and/or their representative. The two rounds were scheduled to occur within a three week timeframe. Give n there was no budget or funding for this research, i n situations where the participant resided outside of Denver and travel was requ ired, the two interviews were scheduled closer together to reduce additional travel costs and expenses. Also, given the ov erall availability of a participant, a flexible arrangement in sched uling the two interviews was utilized to accommodate the participant's ease and ava ilability. The priority was to accommodate the participant's scheduling requests, in lieu of losing thei r participation. Each interview was audio recorded, using two recording devices for backup. Participants were asked to sign an informed consent form before the start of the initial interview outlining the purpose, risks and benefits of the study. Confidentiality was discussed and ensured. Sinc e recording devices were used and transcripts pr epared, each participant was assigned and referred to using a pseudonym. Other than the consent form, which was secured in a locked cabinet in my pers onal home office, their identity has not been reveale d in any documentation . The following appendices include samples of the actual
37 content and forms used: See Appendix A, The Participant Invitation L etter ; See Appendix B, The Interview Pro tocol; and See Appendix C, The Informed Consent Form. Data Analysis Given the amount of data collected via the audio recorded interviews, I secured the assistance of a transcription service to ensure a readable text for each interview was generated accurately and in a t imely manner. The data analysis process began with reviewing the text transcription for each of the audio recorded interviews ; 12 interviews total, an average of 28 pages per interview, yielding 3 50 pages of raw data. The challenge with qualitative analy sis is knowing where to begin with the mounds of data collected. I began this very lengthy and complex process by first reading the transcribed text, and then re reading it as I listened to the interview. The first read was to re familiarize me with the pure content of what was captured during the interview; the combined reading and listening transported me back to the actual experience of being in the interview. It's important to note the additional insights and clarity I gained as I listened to the par ticipant's voice ; the listening enabled me to hear nuances and to recall significant places to pause, apply understanding and extract the participant's meaning to the events and illustrations that were highlighted. For me, it was most helpful to be grounded by listening to the voice of the participant and being cued by hearing in the first person, versus relying on my memory of the interview or my interpretation of the transcribed words on the page. The analysis of a phenomenological study is inductive and descriptive. Since I had no theories or hypotheses to prove or disprove, my goal was to search for what the participants were saying. My initial codes were created by asking the question, "what are the participan ts talking about?" As I read the transcribed text, I made notes of the general areas
38 being addressed. After identifying the broad categories, such as family, extended family, messages, mentors, leadership values, etc. I then asked the question, " what ar e they saying about those topic areas?" I listed all the topic areas, and then began to make extensive notes to describe what each participant had to say about those areas. I created a summary sheet for each participant. Ultimately, I conducted a compar ative analysis , looking across all six of the participants to see what descriptions of their experiences seemed to be similar and consistently emerging. I met separately with my Methods Coach and my Committee Advisor to share my process and initial observ ations. I also re checked the notes I had taken during the interviews to see what patterns if any, were consistently trying to bubble up. I invited each researcher to review my process, my initial codes and descriptions to begin identifying emergent them es. To establish inter rater reliability, my Committee Advisor took my initial codes with descriptions, and my individual summaries for each participant, to work through her own process of verifying codes and identifying themes separately and independe ntly. After she completed her analysis, we met, shared our independent findings and through a process of consensus, identified the six emergent themes for this study. As another dimension of analysis, I created individual narratives as a profile for each participant. Even though a phenomenological study seeks to identify and describe the shared experience, each participant's story adds something personal to what is discovered in the collective. In compliance with a process known as member checking (Shen ton, 2004), e ach participant received their individual profile for personal review for accuracy and the opportunity to make corrections or give their consent for the depiction. All six of the participants responded with great affirmation and enthusiasm fo r the descriptions that had
39 been prepared. Consistently, there were a few minor corrections and the requests for changes were only to remove any references that might be identifiers to compromise their anonymity. Validity of Findings Shenton (2004), offers four specific criteria to establish trustworthiness in qualitative research, namely: credibility, transferability, dep endability, and confirmability. Outlined below are some of the specific strategies and practices I incorporate d in this study. Credibility. To help promote honesty in participants, Shenton emphasizes a few key points that I b u ilt into my interview protocol. They are: 1) encouraging participan ts to be frank from the outset , 2) offering them the right to withdraw, 3) indicating th ere are no right or wrong answers , and 4) highlighting my ind ependent status as a researcher (p.66). Each of these points were reviewed wit h the participant as part of completing the Informed Consent form. A second practice Shenton recommends to build credibility, iterative questioning (p. 67), was built into the interview process. If there were any curious discrepancies, as the interviewer I probe d and rephrase d questions. This practice enable d the participant to be clear, and for the interviewer to seek clarity rather than dismiss or avoid. Using this process, there were no discrepancies to report. Frequent debriefing sessions and p eriodic check ins with my Dissertation Committee Chair and M ethods Coach were schedul ed and extremely beneficial to consider alternative approaches or ways to uncover any bias as I move d through the process of data collection and analysis. The benefit of my Committee Chair's expertise as another Black female
40 researcher proved invaluable in analy zing the data and holding firm to the participant data as the sole basis for identifying themes. Transferability. Given the small sample of this ph enomenological study, this area provided the greatest degree of chall enge. To identify similar projects, employing the same methods, condu cted in different environments w ould be of great value. I have identified and cited several d issertation studies and their findings in my proposal upon which to compare and contrast my research. Collins (1991), reminds us that Black women have been left out of many traditional for ms of scholarship, and so we need to look to nontraditional sources of data and validation. Collins states there is an inherent value to add the researcher's concrete experiences, using language that signal s a different relationship to the material than that which currently prevails in social science literature. " For example, I often use the pronoun "our" instead of "their" when referring to African American women, a choice that embeds me in the group I am studying instead of distancing me from i t" (p. 202). To supplement the data being cited as scholarly academi c research, Collins further posits there is value to "rely on the voices of African American women from all walks of life " (p. 202). Dependability. The s trength of dependability is achieved through the level of detail provided both in the plan and in the implementation of the study. In all final writing, documentation of the specific details associated with Methods are explicit. Confirmability. This appears to be hinged to owning one's biases and documenting clearly the decisions made, my reasoning, and the results of these choices. The transparency of ap proach and outcomes reported indicate the findings are based on the participant's responses and meaning, and not my hidden agenda.
41 Ethical Considerations Given the h igh profile recognition that exist ed for the participants, confidentiality and the need to protect their perso nal identity were the fundamental ethical considerations. While there was no perceived psychological harm or r isk anticipated, the participants who remained eager to be fully transp arent an d to share honestly, did express some discomfort when specific comments could be easily linked, potentially compromising their anonymity. The refore, the use of a pseudonym was assigned and the removal of any identifying details was discussed with each participant to offer the greatest degree of privacy I could assure . Since the goal was to create a safe, and supportive interview space, and to build trust, protecting the identity of each participant was essential . It became inherently beneficial t o incorporate the use of pseudonyms for all participants. Secondarily, as the sole researcher, I want ed to create the rapport and comfort for each participant to explore and report as authentically and transparently to maximize the benefit of their partic ipation. To achieve an effective level of sensitivity and balance, I explore d each participant's relative comfort with explicit details and how they wanted to be supported . This was an important skill for me to develop as the sole interviewer: to encoura ge the specifics and details throughout the interview; and in the reporting, to maintain a sufficient level of abstraction, as desired, to preserve the participant's safety and comfort. Limitations The findings for this study have been generated from inte rviews with six participants. The res earch study participants were limited to the Black women leaders who could be identified through convenience and snowball sampling. The small sample size limits the findings to the experiences of the Black women who a gree d to participat e. Since their
42 experiences represent ed a limited number of fields and organizati ons, the emergent themes are limited in scope and insufficient to make generalized observations to the broader population of Black women leaders.
43 CHAPTER IV SUMMARY OF FINDINGS The purpose of this study is to add to the body of knowledge that affirms the lived experience of Black women leaders, and to share success strategies to inspire girls and encourage Black women entering the workforce . This research provides an opportunity to learn directly from the lived experience of six Black women in senior level positions how they got there, and how they have managed to thrive. This study was established to discover and document the success stra tegies these leaders employed so Black women coming after them can replicate their steps and ideally emulate their success. Given a goal of this study is prepare and guide future leaders, it is also necessary to document the realities and travail that con tinue to plague Black women in the current workforce. While the leaders in this study have made huge strides, the workforce challenges they face have not changed sufficiently to lighten their load or make success for others who look like them more easily attainable. As McGirt (2017) states , "It was supposed to be different by now." The reality in my findings is that even with the progress achieved by the participants in this study who have been fighting the battle of gendered racism as trailblazers for o ver 40 years, the youngest participant in this study who just turned 40 years old, is faced with the same challenges and fighting the same battles. What does this mean? It means the success strategies identified through this research are priceless and va luable because they were hard won and fought for. It means we must act with intention to nurture our Black baby girls and young women and keep goingÃ‰just like our grandmothers, and our mothers, and our aunties did. We do what Maya (1978) said, we rise.
44 T his chapter provides a summary of the findings of this qualitative phenomenological research study. At the center of this study are six senior level leaders who were identified as "firsts" in their positions using convenience and snowball sampling methods . The participants selected for this study represent a diverse mix of career fields and geographies across the United States. All of the participants self identified as Black women, and were reared, educated, and continue to work full time in the United States. The hope of this study is to recognize the importance of allies, namely, parents, teachers and organizational leaders in support of Black girls and women to nurture and develop their unique contribution in order to reach their full potential. Th e findings presented here are designed to enlighten and empower Black girls and women, and to inspire those charged with their development, to act with intention to see their value, hear their voice, and cultivate their leadership. Narrative Profiles The strength of a qualitative study exists in the opportunity to sit and listen to the stories of the participants. Inviting the six participants to share and reflect upon their experiences enabled the participant and the researcher an opportunity to search f or and discover meaning. Upon completion of the two face to face interviews, a narrative profile was generated to capture the individual persona and experience of the participant. A pseudonym was assigned and used throughout the profile to protect the id entity of the participant, support their full transparency, and honor the confidentiality agreement signed. Each leader has a story and a journey all her own. The following profiles introduce you to the leader, her voice and her unique experience.
45 Partic ipant #1: Portia, Executive Director, School Transportation That Corner Office Will Be Mine One Day "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," says Portia, quoting the scripture that she not only grew up on, but continues to look to for dail y inspiration. Portia is the fourth of five children born to her mother, the first of two children born to her dad, and she is considered the baby girl in her family. Portia was raised in the South Central region of the United States, surrounded by a lov ing and supportive household. Portia had the powerful and strong example of her mother and grandmother, primarily, who showered her with love, who provided safety and support, but above all things, illustrated the power of a strong spiritual foundation. They believed and demonstrated the importance of having Christ at the center of their lives. Portia grew up very active in church, and she learned through the consistent example of these two women, to give tirelessly, to be a servant, to love others, and to trust God for her life. As a curious, and observant child, Portia asked lots of questions. One woman who recognized how she stood out in her church community, whom she affectionately called her "Godmother," told her early on that she could be a role model. That she could lead. That she did not have to follow after others. Even after her life took a bit of a turn, when by her early twenties, Portia was a single mother with three children, we see through this particular trajectory the strength of this foundation and the resilience it forged in her. Dedicated and determined, and with a strong sp iritual foundation and the love of family, Portia never allowed society to dictate her life or her self worth. She took on two jobs. She got her children to school, clean and prepared every day. And at the same time, Portia continued her college educati on with the help of tuition reimbursement. As a UPS
46 driver at one point in her life, going in and out of offices, Portia envisions the position she wanted to one day assume for herself. She recognized that she wanted to be a leader; that she wanted to h ave one of those corner offices. To accomplish her goal, Portia began to ask, and inquire, and talk to people, to find out "How did you get there?" "What did you do?" "What was your path?" And so she learned by asking questions. Portia followed much of the information that was given her, but she was never limited by her own humble beginnings, or by the twists and turns that came her way. She talks about obstacles as being a basis to build courage and to use them as stepping stones for overcoming. She took the nontraditional route, and believes each woman should be encouraged to find and follow her own path; even if it looks different from those around you. As I sat with Portia, these were many of the life lessons and illustrations that she poured forth . Today, she is the executive director for school transportation in a large metropolitan school district. One of the things that she shares as she thinks about her role, is that the school day does not begin when children start class. In her role as tra nsportation director, Portia identifies the school day as one that "starts when children are picked up, and ends when they're returned safely at the end of the day." Motivated by an inclusive vision of what schools should look like, Portia is an active lea der who serves the community, and who is a voice for many of the poorer children in this metropolitan city. Portia is soft spoken, but her voice booms loudly. She's respected. She's earned credibility, largely through hard work and building relationship s. She exemplifies team, builds teams, and she is an avid spokesperson for inclusive leadership.
47 In some of her earlier positions, Portia talks about having received challenging assignments. Her "opportunity" often consisted of the less desirable work, and working with the more difficult personalities. She was tested and tried, but she always had a "can do" attitude. With a willingness to learn, and to say yes to new experiences, Portia made the most of every opportunity given to her. Even though she had the benefit of a few senior African American leaders, both male and female, to serve as mentors and to create opportunities to show her how to navigate the way, those relationships were ones that she invited, that she asked for, and was able to learn f rom. These role models recognized her desire to grow and a willingness to do the hard work, and they invested in her. Today, she thrives in an environment where her direct boss, a white male, believes in her, trusts her instincts, supports her plans, giv es her honest and direct feedback, and stands with her in adversity. It's a winning combination that Portia extends to all those she leads. Today, Portia is a powerful leader with great advocacy. She has a huge desire to help and serve others. She is a leader who builds relationships, creates a resourceful network of people, through which she's able to get the job done. It is through these established and nurtured relationships that Portia is able to effectively problem solve and work collaboratively; to leave things better than she found them. Portia's foundation started with love, family, and a strong foundation of Christ at the center of her life. It is a legacy that she continues to build to this day with her own family. As a servant leader, she is respected throughout the school district, the city, and recognized as a strategic problem solver who navigates and leverages relationships resourcefully. Her "can do" attitude causes her to work hard to gain significant outcomes. Her voice is valued,
48 and she uses it to bui ld partnerships and to represent the communities she serves. Portia speaks softly, yet her voice and her influence carr ies farÃ‰she got the corner office! Participant #2: Maya, Senior Academic Official I Love Being A Me Tall and statuesque, much like a Nubian Queen, when Maya enters the room her presence is calm and her authority is clear. In her current role as a top leve l academic official, covering multiple campuses, it is clear to all that she's a strong and confident leader. Maya's roots were formed in the Great Lakes Region of the United States, in what many would consider a poor community, "the projects." She is t he oldest of three children raised by her mother as the solo parent, after the tragic and untimely death of her father, at age three. In early childhood, Maya consistently heard from others that she was a: "natural leader," "exceptional," "bright," "smart, " and even "a sort of golden child." The fact that she received these messages at home, at school, and in the community, forged a safe haven of family and organized activity all around her. Maya's beloved childhood was deeply affirming and made a strong deposit into her sense of self and self confidence. Curious and observant, Maya did what she saw others do. Her mimicking others included taking college admission tests, applying to college, and ultimately deciding where she would attend college, even wh en it seemed unlikely her mother would be able to afford to send her. Maya's ease and poise allowed her to never question "belonging" in any of the circles she traveled in, and as a result she learned to enter many different spaces comfortably, from "a ho le in the wall in the hood," all the way to the college president's ranch.
49 Maya is self motivated. Throughout high school, college, and for much of her work experience in academia, she virtually received no guidance or the benefit of any clear mentors. H er advancements came as a result of her willingness to be flexible, to step up and step through the doors of opportunity as they appeared. Although Maya did not have the direct benefit of a mentoring relationship, she continues to willingly give back, ser ving others as a mentor and guide. She states: And so part of what I do in mentoring and leading, is recognizing that with all that happened for me, I never had like a me in my life right? And so I love being a me. The me I am in so many persons lives esp ecially persons from underrepresented groups in ways that I can, we can have moments of recognition of who we are and maybe what we are up against. As a cultivator and developer of people, Maya has a grand sense that people respect her, and value her voice . She understands and leverages her power when she sees a need, rather than ask permission. Maya does her homework and uses knowledge and wisdom to operate with "latitude," to make changes and help others. She states: " My style is seeking to effect chan ge. And for the most part, working to be evolutionary, not revolutionary." Rather than critique from the outside, Maya works from within to disrupt vers us dismantle the system she is part of; by taking ownership and engaging others, she is able to wo rk strategically to bring about meaningful and sustainable change. Maya leads by example, and encourages other Black women to recognize, understand, and use their power, when she says "use your Ã”agency' you can make choices by default or by design." Listen ing to young Black women who describe their feelings of being watched, as if under a microscope, Maya boldly advises: "Give them something to
50 behold." Maya, by her own powerful example, encourages these young women rather than shrink back, to create a beh avioral model that says "take a good look, take notes." Recognizing that indeed people are watching, Maya offers herself as a conscious role model who chooses to represent positively and assuredly. Maya is an inclusive and highly collaborative leader. Gi ven her background and experience in organizational communication, she brings theory to experience to create masterful learning opportunities for herself and others. As a highly respected and effective communicator, Maya facilitates outcomes and helps oth ers to discover and deepen their insights. Maya understands power, and leverages her influence. Maya recognizes needs and steps up to meet them. She is focused by her own internal drive to have an impact in the workplace, and to expect a return on her i nvestment. This leader is an exemplar working with and through people to raise the b ar, disrupt systems, and effect change. Participant #3: Shawn, Market President, Finance The Sky is the Limit Packed in a small frame, Shawn is a powerhouse on a mission. She is as deliberate in setting goals as she is in walking in her high heels. Motivated by metrics, her team stands with her, intentional, to meet and exceed the low expectations set for this less than desirable territory. Her response? Shawn rises at forty years young, to become the first Black woman to sit in this office as market president of a financial institution, and her market receives its first perfect score in her first year. Shawn is a second generation native of the state in which she currently resides. She is the third of four children born to her mother, and the oldest of two children born to her father. Shawn delights in the fact they were raised as one family ("we consi der ourselves full
51 blood siblings"), the benefactors of a strong, two parent household. To solidify this circle of familial support, her grandmother, her mother's mother lived nearby, and provided daily after school childcare, making her a significant inf luence and pillar in Shawn's life. The early childhood messages Shawn received were: "you're mature," "you're independent," "you're just like your dad you don't act like a female, you're harsh and aggressive like a male," "you're direct and can stand on your own," "you see things as they are," "you can do whatever you want as a woman, you don't need to rely on a man," "You take care of yourself." Shawn's takeaway is bittersweet. While she missed out on some of the help and comfort she needed as a little girl, she learned to fend for herself, to be self reliant, which she now contributes to her current strength as a leader: independent and mature. Based on her very active role as president of the youth group in her church, others saw her potential, and s he too, discovered her love for leading people as early as her middle school years. Shawn's academic gifts and leadership potential were very generously guided and developed by another Black woman (Youth Group Leader) in her church. As a high ranking wom an in the Post Office, she became a role model, inspiring Shawn to believe: "the sky is the limit; if she can do this, I can do it too." As a hands on guide, coach, and mentor, her direct deposits resulted in college admission, and several merit scholarsh ips to meet all of Shawn's financial needs while in school. Shawn landed in the financial industry via an internship during college, and entering the program whereby she would train for management upon graduation. Seventeen years later, with the help o f two significant bosses who also served as mentors (both white, one
52 female, the second male), Shawn i s now the first and only Black f emale president for this financial institution. The significance of mentors, and mentors who also served as role models, cannot be overstated as Shawn reflects on her career achievements. Starting with the church leader who took a vested interest in her during the middle and high school years, once Shawn was in the workplace, there were additional mentors to help her learn the ropes, navigate through the financial industry and find her way. In particular, Shawn describes the impact of being mentored by her boss, another female president who was also married with two children. In this direct reporting relationship, Shawn re ceived empathy and emotional support from her as a new mom, coupled with the developmental feedback that would strengthen her candidacy to one day realize her goal of becoming president. Shawn saw her leader as a role model, fortifying her belief, "if she can be president, and do it with children and a husband, I can too!" She was free to be her whole self, encouraged as a worker and as a mother, and thrived as she was validated in both of these important roles. While it would be easy and natural to focu s on the accolades associated with Shawn's accomplishments, she also describes her path as lonely, frequently tested, and utterly distracted by naysayers who express doubt for her skill; choosing instead to lend support for the idea that her achievements w ere based on quota filling, rather than merit. Frequently, Shawn is the only Black or female person in the room; and at her level, she is also one of the youngest. The intersectionality of race, gender and ageism in the workplace compounds the burden of having to prove her competence, to speak up and address micro aggressions so her voice is heard, and her contribution is not overlooked. Shawn's drive and determination are fueled by her absolute faith that God will not let her fail. After praying and tr usting God "to
53 not lead her into this position if she was going to fail," she draws daily on that belief in God's faithfulness. As she carries the weight and responsibility of being "the first," she works twice as hard to make sure her performance opens t he door versus closes it for other people of color who might come after her. Shawn remains resilient in the face of adversity, and determined to succeed. Shawn is a fact based, metrics driven, inclusive leader, resolved and determined to change limiting b eliefs and succeed in spite of the resistance and skepticism she experiences. She faces challenges head on. She solicits the inputs of every member of her team and creates meaningful work so her team is fulfilled, remains motivated, and enjoys their day to day work experience. Shawn inspires others by her consistent example of drive, hard work and collaboration. Shawn has set her sights high; she is trusting God will not let her fail. For her, the sky is the limit! Participant #4: Samantha, Associate D irector, Cultural Arts Leave it Better As a product of two worlds, Samantha is a unique blend of Southern Hospitality and New England Charm. Her parents migrated from the South to establish residence in a small Northeastern hamlet; and they returned to the home of their roots, each year, where Samantha fondly spent her summers. Samantha personifies her family's guiding principle: "when you leave this home, you will be nourished, happier and smarter." The strong bonds of family and the support that eman ated from her parents as well as her extended family, lavished Samantha with love and surrounded her with safety. As the youngest of three children, Samantha enjoyed a carefree childhood existence. Given the difference in their
54 ages, after her siblings w ent off to college she enjoyed the undivided attention and freedom of being an only child. By all accounts, Samantha was a precocious child, expressing interest in "big kid" activities, comfortable asking for what she wanted, and behaving in ways far beyo nd her years. Consistently, she charmed and negotiated with the adults in her sphere (teachers, community storeowners, extended family members) and was granted permissions, given exceptions, and allowed to participate (or not), on her own terms, as she ex plored her interests without inhibition. Even as she was considered "a handful," and "full of mischief," the clearest message of all was "you're going to college, you're going to accomplish great things." The bedrock of security formed by her family's st able foundation, became the launch pad for many adventures and opportunities that came Samantha's way. The consistent behavioral messages that permeated her home, "if you need us we'll be there," "you can always come home," and "our love and support is un conditional," were both "blessings and affirmation" that powerfully undergirded Samantha to step into the unknown and the unfamiliar, with confidence and without hesitation. Samantha's career path has been broad and diverse. Unlike many accomplished lead ers, Samantha did not learn to navigate one system, she developed proficiency across several. Samantha knew early on, "she was more interested in having great experiences than in getting A's." That clarity guided her to build relationships and attract me ntors who operated like sponsors, creating new paths, and opening doors. She audaciously said yes to opportunities that came her way, successfully moving across industries and positions in insurance, to assistant dean of admissions at a four year Ivy Leag ue liberal arts college, to state appointed cultural arts director, to her current executive role at one of our nation's most heralded cultural institutions.
55 In addition to her take charge disposition, Samantha is also a gifted actor, with a compelling pre sence and a highly effective command of language. The combination of masterful communicator, strong negotiator, and creative arts director has resulted in Samantha's exceptional ability to attract people and resources to contribute to the causes and event s she leads. Powerfully, she uses her voice not only to advance her own causes, but equally to speak out against injustice wherever it occurs. She's comfortable in her own skin, and doesn't scare easily. She's courageous and she uses her courage to infl uence change. Situations of racism, inappropriate sexual misconduct in the workplace, that might cause others to be silenced or at least give pause, have been the scenarios and challenges Samantha met with clarity, focus and deliberation. The underserved must be served; there must be sanctions and consequences for violation and disrespect. At the end of the day, her goal and her mission is to facilitate introspection, invest in the people around her, and leave the workplace better. She states: When I ha nd off a job, I want to hand it off healthy. So before I leave the job, I try putting more money in the bank. You know, I put some stuff in place so that the person who's new and learning and coming after me has got some things all ready to go. So that th ey don't have to stumble and fumble and try and figure it out. They can do it or not do it. That's of course their choice, but I want to leave it better than when I found it. As a leader, Samantha is kind, caring and supportive. She's an advocate and a f riend. She has an uncanny ability to connect with people and see what's going on with them. She's a motivator. She studies and prepares for each and every assignment with absolute diligence. She's a student of history, and stands on the shoulders of ou r forbearers to develop the fortitude and belief that tough challenges can be overcome. As a national cultural arts director, she brings
56 the skills and expertise to capture and preserve the great stories and events of our time. She is using her gifts of relational connection and influence to build a legacy for generations to come. Participant #5: Della, MD., Vice President, National Health Plan Dream BigÃ‰Go After the Good Stuff Della is a mÂŽlange of many traits: she is, curious, creative, collaborative, courageous, comfortable and accessible, a dreamer for sure, and a leader that people are drawn to follow. In addition to all those traits, she's a systems thinker, strategic problem solver, straightforward and willing to speak up. Last, but not least, sh e's a teacher and a healerÃ‰a doctor by calling and profession. Small in stature but sizeable in influence, Della provides leadership for a team of two hundred, as vice president, for one of the nation's largest not for profit health plans. Although her l ife may look like a story book to many now, it did not start out that way. She is the oldest girl, and the second chronologically in a family of five children. By her own description, she grew up in a household that was both chaotic and dysfunctional, ba sed on the erratic behavior that came from two alcoholic parents. Despite the turmoil, Della benefitted from many positive exposures and received some positive messaging: she may not have been pegged as "the pretty one," but she was definitely told she wa s "the smart one" and "she was going to college." As a child of the sixties, Della grew up during a time when there were few female, and certainly very few black female role models in medicine. Della knew she loved playing with "doctor kits" and wanted t o be in healthcare; however, she initially assumed she would be a nurse, because what she saw on television and in the world around her were female nurses and white male doctors. By age eleven, on the heels of the civil rights and the
57 women's movement, as career paths were starting to become more broadly expansive, Della knew she wanted to be a doctor. Della's dreams and fortitude were fueled by her own internal drive and by what she saw outside of her immediate home. "I just had the sense there was a big ger and better world out there," Della comments. Her belief, along with the advocacy of her godmother/ Auntie, and a very encouraging teacher who opened the door and Della's eyes to experience an affluent high school outside of her neighborhood in South E ast Washington, D.C., changed her trajectory in a major way. This exposure and comfort in a "white world" set in motion for her to attend a predominantly white male Ivy League research university, just as they began to admit women. The winning formula th at seemed to repeat over and over again for Della, was she knew there was more, and she was unwavering in asking, speaking up, or doing whatever it took to "grab the brass ring," and "go after the good stuff." The road to and through medical school was fil led with hazing, micro aggressions and out and out intimidation. Della describes her journey as one that didn't present mentors to help her navigate the landscape or learn the ropes; instead it was an unending proving ground where she knew she had to work harder and be smarter to hold her own. Equipped with polished speech and "knowing her stuff," Della was intentional in her zeal and drive to change and shatter the limiting perceptions that often surrounded her and her black colleagues. Part of her stra ightforward, willing to "step right into it and face conflict head on" style, was forged while receiving her medical training. She declares: "One of the things I wanted to do was make sure that I did change their perceptions of who we were, and who I was, by showing up in a way that was like, bring it buddy." Della is hardly confrontational;
58 yet her stand is clear, and she is willing to challenge the people and or systems that attempt to maintain the exclusivity of an old boy's club. Fast forward to today . Della came to her current VP position via a non traditional route, that speaks volumes. As a healthcare provider, she always placed an important emphasis on patient care and community. Recognizing missed opportunities to serve the community effectivel y and a need for greater organization, Della stepped out of her comfort zone, seizing the opportunity to strategically share her observations and voice her concerns. The result: she was invited by the regional president at that time, to join her team and become a part of the solution. Adaptive and creative, Della accepted the challenge to bring her knowledge of care delivery to the medical health plan side of the business. Through it all, her success has been founded on an authentic, inclusive leadershi p style that builds trusting relationships quickly and invests heavily in people. As a leader, Della is highly collaborative, and views her team "as a team of equals." Since she did not come up through the ranks, recognizing she is new to this side of bus iness, she builds strong teams as a convener, facilitator, mentor, coach and continuous learner. She is comfortable speaking her truth quietly, clearly, and by all measures, convincingly. She uses power, influence, the generation of information, and effe ctive communication to achieve critical business outcomes. She has followed her dreams and found the good stuff! Participant #6: Joy, President Emerita Stepping Out on Faith Joy is president emerita of a nationally recognized, four year liberal arts Chr istian college. She has a sparkling personality; her presence is bubbly and energetic. Joy is both welcoming and colorful, spirited and poised. Her confidence and internal drive for
59 excellence were established early on; as a young child, she was doted o n by an adoring mother, and continually encouraged by her father to "aim to be number one" and always "shoot for the top group." Born to parents of Jamaican heritage, Joy is the second of two children, the only girl and given her premature arrival, deemed by her family as the "miracle" baby. Reared in a strong, supportive family, at age six, her mother left their middle class existence in Kingston, Jamaica, to come to America and establish the roots that would eventually support their transplanted family in a world of greater opportunity. Left in the watchful care of her paternal grandmother and her father, Joy continued to be nurtured and shielded from physical activities that might bring harm, and instead developed her love for books, reading, and other academic pursuits. At age nine, Joy immigrated to the United States, where her family established their citizenship and their residence in the Bronx, New York. Set apart by her accent and her newness to the form and style of pedagogy in the US, Joy qu ickly learned to adapt her speech ("I learned to speak like a Yank"), and to readily embrace the culture and customs of her New York school experience. In her new home, Joy developed a "can do" attitude, kindled by her mother's insistence at developing a broad base of skills and talents (cooking, cleaning, sewing, piano) as feminine preparation, and her father's unrelenting push to see her excel. She studied, she worked hard, and she was readily affirmed as "smart" and "talented" by teachers and classmate s as she consistently earned top honors throughout school. Given the academic norms and traditions were unfamiliar, Joy was introduced to many scholarly and cultural activities at the suggestion of her classmates. By way of experience, Joy learned "never say no to an opportunity," and as a result, mimicked her
60 classmates to take the SATs and to audition for the very selective Music and Art High School in Manhattan. Her willingness to learn from others and make the most of every opportunity, continued as a repetitive theme throughout her adult life, opening doors to new experiences and attracting mentors, who valued her eagerness to contribute, and her consistent level of rigor and reliable high performance. Joy's spiritual conversion and her personal commitment to becoming a Christian took place at seventeen. She credits God with shaping her journey by the opening and closing of doors. As a person of great faith, Joy also shared her mother's pioneering spirit, sparking her to move freely about the co untry, saying yes to opportunities to study in New York, Washington, D.C., Alabama, and California. Joy demonstrated time and again, she was willing to "step out on faith" and was comfortable charting new territory and exploring the unknown. Consistently , Joy's academic and professional career path was sprinkled with models and mentors along the way. While attending a popular HBCU as an undergraduate, she benefitted from having Black female professors who nurtured her love for English Literature, and at the same time affirmed her Afrocentric style and cultural expression; as she continued her studies at a Christian college in the South, she thrived with the addition of a solid spiritual foundation. As an outgrowth of these two strong college experiences, nurtured by the contributions of several compelling role models, her confidence and her achievement as a top scholastic student grew. Joy received exceptional mentoring support from multiple white males, who remain strong personal and professional advo cates to this day. By her own testimony, they sent her to conferences, initiated exposures to people and information, included her in lunches and
61 other gatherings, and invested in her development, both formally and informally. As she described the signif icant impact of these mentors, they acted as sponsors, provided instruction, recommendations, and created job opportunities that facilitated her career path. As Joy excelled and accelerated through the academic leadership ranks as assistant provost befor e assuming her own presidency, she developed an effective strategic planning model and was zealous in documenting and publishing the results. In her own words: "you created the plan, worked the plan, implemented the plan, and operationalized the plan." A s a cornerstone of her lea dership, her campus received national recognition as America's most beautiful campus, designed exceptional educational practices, improved student retention, and developed a strong s piritual framework for students. T ogether , with effective marketing and promotion of these visible outcomes, through the Presidents Report, these accomplishments yielded positive momentum and energy campus wide and in the surrounding community. Joy's personal motto and work ethic is: "do your best wor k every day." Time and again, as doors were opened by God's grace, Joy reaped the rewards of diligent preparation and consistent hard work. As a leader, Joy continues to do her best work by remaining confident to step up and step out on faith, to inspire visions of greatness, and to achieve compelling concrete outcomes. The narrative profiles presented were generated to offer a lens and insight into the unique and personal experiences of each participant. They represent a diverse mix of geographies and occupational fields. These leaders shared their stories to form a rich reflection of childhood memories, school days, rites of passage in the workplace, significant others who affirmed and encouraged them, hindrances and obstacles that challenged them,
62 an d opportunities and blessings that launched them on a successful trajectory to become the first Black woman to hold their current leadership position. By presenting their stories, we acknowledge and celebrate their journey. Emergent Themes As a phenomenological research study, the purpose is to identify shared, or common elements of the lived experience of the six participants. I discovered through this process, that my role as a researcher was to read and re read the transcripts, and liste n to their voices to connect to these stories in search of that shared meaning. Through inductive and descriptive coding and constant comparative analysis , six themes emerged as the significant common elements of their lived experience. The emergent them es were: 1) Strong supportive family; 2) Strong sense of self/self confidence; 3) Resilience/adaptability; 4) Desire to make an impact/help others; 5) Collaborative/connector of people; and 6) Use their voice. Theme # 1: Strong Supportive Family What can b e said about strong supportive family and the role it plays in the lives of young Black women? In the case of the six women who participated in this study family was powerful. Without exception, five of the women described in absolute detail the signific ance of family and the enduring support they received. It is important to note that for all six participants, their mother was present in their daily lives; father was present for four of them, and grandmother was part of the daily life experience for thr ee of them. Maya proudly states: "And my mom, she is the first and primary role model for me, especially retrospectively of how she handled the things that happened in her own very, very, young life." Shawn describes the value of having her grandmother l ive close by. She says:
63 And I think that caused our family to be close, that's why me and my siblings are very close right now. As a very young child, we never went to daycare. We had a grandmother, my mom's mom, who watched us after school. So very close with my grandmother who is one of the pillars that I guess I'll talk about later. Big influence on my life. For Della, the one participant who described her family as dysfunctional, even in her case, mother, father and grandmother were in her household. Her grandmother and twin sister helped to form the nucleus she relied on as family. D ella reminisces: "And when we lived in DC, we lived with my grandmother and her twin sister, my great aunt, who were both maids at the Mayflower Hotel, where they retired after thirty years of working." Although her emotional environment was considered un stable her physical needs were met. As Della describes in her own words, "we always had three hots and a cot as they say," meaning the basics of food and shelter were never in question. On some level it may be easy to miss the significance of having a s upportive family; it may be easy to miss until we step back and reflect on the fact that having support and a supportive family is not a foregone conclusion and certainly not true in everyone's life. Looking at her peers, Maya recognized that among her ow n inner circle of friends the support and affirmation that she so readily received, did not exist for everyone. Maya states: Even as I know that my peers, my girlfriends not a single one of them had anything like what I experienced right? That was for me the combination of my home life, my school life, my community in way s that all of those affirmed me.
64 For Maya, family was a widening circle that included affirmation at home, at school, and from her community; however, she reminds us, that for many [perso ns in underrepresented groups], "they were not getting those kinds of messages about themselves." So what does supportive family mean and what did it look like for the participants in this study? Supportive family was described to me as a foundation based on love and encouragement; of knowing that there was accountability, and a high degree of affirmation. In a strong supportive family, for each of these women there was an absolute sense of I'm not only cared for here, but I matter. Joy cheerfully recall s her childhood. She says: I had kind of an idyllic childhood that we were a middle class family. My dad was a manager for Westinghouse. My mom worked in a wonderful bookstore on King Street. So I think about my love for books and being an English profess or. I trace it back to her working in this wonderful bookstore where I would get wonderful books for Christmas. So I became the proverbial book worm because I couldn't ride a bicycle and I couldn't swim. So I was always inside reading. So looking back at w hy I ended up probably going into English and loving to read and loving to learn. That's probably all a part of it. For several of the participants the definition of family included extended family: aunties, uncles, and cousins. Samantha fondly describe s her summer visits: "My cousinsÃ‰when we went there and spent the summer, spent summertime, they played with us and they loved us to pieces." For some, family included church family and their surrounding community. Portia describes how church family play ed a significant role in her view of family. She states:
65 Even as we have grown up, wh en you go back to your church family , and you have more than fifty percent of t he people who are very elde rly right now, these same people that you knew as a child still recognizing who you are and t hat you sung in the youth choir. I t was just a matter of fact, that my world was about family and friends and everyone was considered auntie and uncle, because I didn't know what hate looked like. I didn't know what racism look ed like. I didn't know any of those things, because what was modeled in front of me was the fact that we were family. You were family and you stuck together and you loved and all those good things. For three of the women their relationship with their fathe r was significant. Joy describes how her father doted on her: "I was a daddy's girl. My dad is the person who loved me the most in this world period." Shawn and Samantha who had both parents in the home reflected on the impact they had on their lives. S hawn states: So I think growing up as a black family in a two parent household may not be as common, but I think that is one part of my life that has helped me be successful; having both of my parents there in the same household. Samantha describes how her parents made an impact on her early leadership development. She states: I wa s taught by my father and my mother, the two of them. But my father always was the synthesizer and he would say, you know, I brought you into this world. You aren't going to be so mebody who contributes and makes this world better? Then step aside. Don't get in the way of making this a better world, because this world is in need. Strong supportive family became their launch pad. The place called home where
66 physical and emotional needs were met. The place where one's self image was formed and reinforced daily. Samantha describes her family as the place where unconditional love and acceptance dwelled: "I grew up in a large, large and you know relational and then extended family o f unconditional love and support." The nucleus of support described as family, helped each of these women to establish a foundation of authentic relationships and form lasting bonds of trust and caring. Strong, supportive family provided the context where members not only got the help they needed, but were taught how to help themselves and to help others. Supportive family was the first significant step to their success. Theme # 2: Strong Sense of Self / Self Confidence "Don't let anybody tell you, you can't ," says Della. It's a powerful statement, one that reflects a strong sense of self, and resolve. For the purposes of describing this theme: a strong sense of self/self confidence is an inner knowing, a belief in oneself; it is a source of fuel, and a deep well that one can tap into regardless of what the world around you may be saying about you. When the world was saying "you can't," each of these participants in their own way and in their own words, was saying, "yes I can, watch me." Della re members her experience as a medical resident. She states: And they were so demeaning. It was such a, you know there was something about both residency and those medical school years that was a hazing. It was about a boy's club and you're a girl. And on to p of it, you're a black girl. What gives you the right to be part of our club? So it was a different walk for women and for black folks. Whatever were their certain preconceived notions, I watched them change. And one of the things I wanted to do was make sure that I did change their perceptions of who
67 we were and who I was by showing up in a way that's like, bring it buddy. For three of the participants Portia, Shawn, and Joy, much of their self confidence was fueled by faith. Portia says: "I control me a nd with the help of my Almighty God guiding me and really standing on the principles of what He means to me, I truly believe the doors that I pray to open will be opened, and doors that need to be closed will be closed." Shawn says: "Through hard work wit h the help of God I deserve to be here." Joy says: "Trust God and He will open the doors." Another component of self confidence as evidenced through these participants was establishing their own identity and not being defined by the external world or allo wing others to dictate their sense of self worth. Portia says: "I didn't allow society to dictate my self worth. I continue not to allow society to tell me, or to dictate what my path and what my destiny or what my goals will or should look like." After experiencing multiple forms of disrespectful behavior while traveling, and at her home office, Samantha created new inroads by defining her limits and setting her own terms. I think it's important to note these two self defining moments took place over fo rty years ago at Samantha's first place of employment right out of college. She states: And they had never asked an African American I guess to be one of the Ã”[company name deleted] girls' for their sponsored Tennis Open. And I said, I don't know what tha t is but no thank you. Yeah I did, it had Ã”girl' in it. As young as I was, I knew Ã”girl' was not something that I wanted. I said absolutely not. I did not go to college, and I did not come to work to be an Ã”[company name deleted] girl.' They basically star ted saying it wasn't a choice. I had been chosen and I would, and I said I would not.
68 On a separate occasion after experiencing harassment and ill treatment while traveling, Samantha advocated for herself, demonstrating courage and confidence. She states: So I traveled to different cities where this particular corporation had offices, to review the work there , and I had to stay in hotels. I had t o go to restaurants, and to offices where I was not welcome as an African American, nor as a woman. I went back to the home office and t old them that I was tired of being placed in these hotels where I was being harassed, where I wasn't being served, where people were giving my k ey away and so on and so forth. A nd you know they said well, what do you wa nt to do about it? And I said, that's the problem. You think I'm supposed to fi x this. And so now what I want, is to recover from this. So, you're going to pay me for the next three to five months whatever it is, until I feel better (physically and psychol ogically whole) about the sexual harassment, the degrading behavior, the humiliations, and I'm leaving ! " Samantha's inner sense of self/ self confidence provided a basis for self advocacy at a time when few women, especially young Black women in the workfor ce, felt they could, or knew how to speak up and say no, you will not mistreat me. It's hard to know definitively from where this strong sense of self originated. Based on the data, we see that our participants enjoyed the support of a strong family, and also received affirming messages growing up. As a young girl, Portia was told she could be a "role model and a leader." Maya was affirmed by her family, teachers, and friends for being "smart, bright and exceptional." Shawn was viewed by her family as " mature for her age" "independent," and "fully capable to stand on her own." An additional component a few of the participants described as having contributed to
69 their strong sense of self, had to do with being exposed to whites as peers and feeling equal and a sense of belonging at an early age. Based on their select status as black students that were set apart, as only one of a few, they competed with white students in the top, or honors group. This early exposure not only demystified whites, but gave them a comfort that later translated into being able to work in environments that some Blacks might find isolating. Maya describes her experience. She states: It worked to my advantage because in those classes as the only colored girl, and being in the North I think was crucial; my peers, my white peers truly felt like peers to me. I don't recall feeling less than, I felt just as smart, just as whatever, and some of them we became friends. So I had this sense again as I reflect on it that I belonged, and I should aspire. When describing her experience as being one of only a few Blacks in the top honors group, Joy says: So that gives you some kind of comfort, right? Because there are some [Black] people who don't want to be alienated or set apart from, t hey're not comfortable. But the experiences that we had where you were one of two, or you were the only one in your class, it giv es you a comfort level ; like I'm not afraid of white people and I mean I have good friends who were white and Jewish because th ey were in my classes and I'm not afraid of it. There was also the inherent sense of self confidence forged out of experience: "there's just very little I can't do," says Della. Della who had a very different experience growing up, was charged with lots o f responsibility and household chores in addition to being a top honors student. She states:
70 I think there are people who are just natural leaders and I've just always found myself, I mean whether it was cooking dinner at eleven and running that house, or walking up to Sister Anita in the eighth grade the day before eighth grade graduation, saying I'd like to make a speech at graduation. What kid does that? I had something I had to say and she said OK, and I wrote a speech and gave a speech. These participants demonstrated self confidence as knowing they belonged, knowing they mattered, and having a strong inner belief that they had a contribution to make. They remained internally confident and did not look for validation from the outside. Respond ing to a Black student on a predominantly white campus [who said, "I feel like they're looking at me"], Maya states: I said, give them something to behold and that's how I strive to be in the world. Give them something to behold, take a good lookÃ‰take note s. That is the key part of who I am and how I love, and I don't believe it is arrogance, or conceited; humility matters a lot to me. This notion of agency around complying with power is very crucial for me. As I work with people, I try to help them underst and if you choose to comply because you understand what's at stake and why you're doing it and you don't feel like you're compromising your integrity that's key; it's very different than a grudging, okay I better. Which is not to say I don't sometimes feel that way, but for the most part, I try to be centered on, I'm choosing to do this, and I understand what can be at stake. I understand that across all those folks who respect me and value me or whatever, there's different degrees of perhaps this notion of I'm the exception and the rest of them aren't capable. I mean I get that all the isms and so forth are operating for all o f
71 us, right? And I accept at this point the wonderful opportunity to disrupt people's sense of who someone like me might be, and what I can offer. Theme # 3: Resilience /Adaptability Resilience is the ineffable quality to bounce back, to find another way, to rise . The six participants in this study shared countless illustrations of their resolve to overcome adversity, and their adaptability to face uncertainty. Resilience is the creative ability to take on "the most challenging assignments and figure out how to make them work with little to no guidance," says Portia. As firsts, these leaders are also trailblazers; the ones to step into the unknown and navigate unchartered territory. Whether taking on a challenge or stepping into new territory, these Bla ck women leaders, several of them without the benefit or guidance from a mentor, have stepped up with courage and conviction, and prevailed. As Samantha states: "You don't learn to be resilient because, you know, you saw somebody over there do it. It's pr actice. It's in the bone. It's in the marrow." Resilience for several of the participants is a determined "can do" response to the resistance they receive from others who question their ability or credibility. The energy spent in having to prove oneself, "facing opposition," adds to the work and a perception of working twice as hard. Shawn states: There were a lot of times throughout my career and even now, where I'm the only, not only am I the only black, but I'm the only female. I'm the youngest, and s o I think the credibility barrier where people just assume I'm a child or I'm not capable, or you're in this seat because you're black and they need to fill a quota. You really don't know what you're doing. I think we're under such a microscope as people o f color, that you always have to work doubly hard to be considered equal.
72 Samantha describes the impact of having other women challenge her credibility. She says: I've experienced Ã”the mean girl syndrome' working for you know, a woman. That women are not always the most supportive and encouraging of other women. It's heartbreaking. They can be career crushing. You know that those persons don't want you, and it can be men as well. They don't want anybody to know tha t you have better skills , that you're risi ng above them. Maya introduces the intersectionality of racism and sexism as experienced by Black women. Based on her data gathering and personal experience, Maya reminds us that for Black women racism and sexism are not either/or conditions; both exist a s challenges in the workplace. She states: I was especially interested in what I later learned on intersectionality of women of color talking with some of those black women and getting t he clarity about the sexism they endured in their roles in that univ ersity setting. Recognizing the role of intersectionality and getting that clarity specifically about being a black woman in a space where there were also black men. Upon reflection (especially when I was working there, but also when I was a graduate stude nt), realizing that wow you know, often times we are the ones who are like doing all the work, expected to do certain kinds of work, not necessarily getting the recognition. And you and I both know that this is not all the time or whatever, but still that was illuminating for me. And again a cornerstone in how I now lead and ways that I strive to work with and encourage others, especially women of color. Resilience and adaptability for these Black women as leaders are qualities of strength and
73 creativity. Della describes her leadership style as one that is resilient and adaptive. She states: So to start with my leadership style I'd say it's a very accessible style. It's also inclusive. It's marked and infused with a lot of humor. It's pretty relaxed. I'm n ot one of those uptight people or tense people. And I'm actually one of those folks who when things get crazier I get calm. And I think that's probably my physician background more than anything. As a good doc you don't panic, and you have to figure out ho w to work your way through things when things don't go well. Della goes on to describe the quality of adaptability as a leader and its genesis. She adds: First of all, I think the value that women and people of color bring to leadership teams is grounde d in no small part in how adaptive we are versus how sort of technical we are. I'm using the Heifetz [Model], you know leadership on the line or adaptive leadership language. How agile and responsive and adaptive we've had to be, because you know to quote Langston Hughes, "life for me, ain't been no crystal stair." Right? And so you have to learn how to sort of work with and roll with some pretty hard punches and not let it destroy your soul. Samantha provides us with a historical context for knowing Black women have great resolve and great strength that she draws upon. She says: I have a sense from my family and from history that we [Black people] are some bad [meaning great] people. We got some strategies and some organization and some stuff going on here nobody seems to really know exists. I am fortified and I read. I'm reading novels. I'm reading management books. I'm reading African American
74 history. And those things are sustaining me against the continual Ã”you don't belong in this space.' I need that r einforcement, that history that, you know women have been doing this stuff forever. And I see in moments in time how this history from the past has caught up with the present, it's aligned, it is parallel. And if people knew and understood that, they would n't feel like they're standing alone trying to do something that's never been done before. It has been done before. Black people have been fighting for their freedoms forever. They've been leading. They've had universities, and they've built ships and trav eled. We didn't just wake up yesterday, and have the civil rights movement. This has been going on in this country forever. And in Africa, Brazil, and the Caribbean, people [of color] have been fighting to be free, and to be creative, and to be intellectua l, and to be whoever they're supposed to be. And we just don't know that. I believe if this nation knew it's history, we would be a different country. We would celebrate all these differences. The participants in this study demonstrated adaptability as hav ing the courage and willingness to navigate unchartered territory. Joy describes adaptability as she shares her experience in becoming a first, and the character traits required. She states: And that's part of being first. To be first, you have to be wi lling to step out where nobody else has gone before. That means the unknown. The territory is unknown. The trajectory is unknown. But you're willing to go out there and see what's out there. I gave a speech earlier this year called, "Being the Unprecedent ed" and it was about African American Trailblazers. The crux of what I said was this whole thing about being a first. What it means. The kind of spirit you have to have. You have to be
75 courageous to do it. You have to take it on, you know? So some of us h ave to step out on faith, and we have to go and we just have to do it. The last element of resilience and adaptability as shared by one of the participants, profoundly speaks to the conscious choice to keep going against all odds. Resilience, as described in Portia's account is a deep well withinÃ‰the place Black women go to discover their true identity, in spite of society's verdict and depiction of them. Portia moves beyond society's limiting beliefs and low expectations of a single, teen mother, to determine her own destiny. She says: And that in itself led me to a place where I just de cided that I wanted to do more and to be curious about what's out there and to determine how I could be different; but different in Portia's way, not different because the world says you have to do things a certain way. Resilience as demonstrated by the le aders in this study, is the creative force they each I was just in a conversation with a friend, when they happened to see me and say, "you have three kids?" And they said "you're just g oing to be another statistic," because by that time I had my two boys and then I had my daughter. During that time, teen pregnancy was really high, and so it hurt me; and for a period of time I went into a shell until I looked in the mirror one day and sa id, you know, Ã”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.' And I just really went to a place, a place in my heart where my grandmother lives and just said what would she say to me right now?
76 tap into to resist the limiting beliefs and lowered expectations of others. These women are also highly adaptable; they are champions for change based on their courage to step into the unknown and thei r leadership to navigate unchartered territory. Theme # 4: Desire to Make an Impact/Help Others The desire to make an impact and to help others is a driving force and motivation for all six of the participants in this study. These Black women leaders ar e intentional, disciplined, and unwavering in their actions to influence positive outcomes. Joy, in her role as a college president, finds inspiration in the book Good to Great which she uses to motivate herself and her team. Referencing Jim Collins' wor k, she states: " Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness it turns out is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline , so let's choose to be great. Let's discipline ourselves and implement our plan." The results and impact Joy was dri ving to achieve included improved educational practices, increased student retention, and creating an academic environment that also incorporated purpose and meaning through spiritual values. Joy says: There's something called synergy and momentum. Once t hings start moving, they move. And so if you were to say how did you get from 71 percent to 85 percent retention rate? I can say it was a confluence of different things. It's that students were happier. It was that we had high impact educational practic es. It's that we became more diverse. People saw more role modeling. It's that I increased financi al aid. A number of things that were done. We identified a program that students were dropping out of a lot. And we fixed it. And we recognized for our Christ ian campuses to hold on to our Christian values and ethos does take some intentionality.
77 In describing their individual efforts and motivation to make an impact, each of the six participants consistently placed a greater emphasis on changing systems, fost ering growth, and/or helping others, versus a focus on self promotion and personal gain. As the first Black and first female to occupy her position as transportation director for the local school district, Portia realizes she has a unique opportunity to i nfluence change and serve as a role model. Portia states: I believe in hard work. I'm not motivated by money. I'm not motivated by title or position. I'm motivated by the fact that I want to accomplish something and I want to be a role model to Black wome n and girls that they can become and be anything that they set their minds toÃ‰ I really want to succeed, and my success is not in title. It's the satisfaction in knowing that if I set my mind to something that I want to do and I'm able to accomplish it, th en for me it's satisfaction in knowing that I've been able to help someone. I've been able to help kids. I've been able to help community, and I've been able to make something come to fruition that other people said couldn't happen. In her role as a top le vel academic official at the university where she serves, Maya describes her view of making an impact as being deliberate about change, facilitating growth in people, and investing in the future. Maya says: So my style is seeking to effect change. I also am very aware that I'm much closer to the end of my life. To the end of my career than to the beginning and so I want to have a sense of again the kind of impact or difference I've made. These are some of the thoughts and feelings that I've been having th at has led me to a kind of impatience. Or certainly feeling the impatience, and then talking about it, working
78 with it, and coming back to my center of being in the moment and acknowledging the kind of change that I do believe is happening. This deepens my commitment to recognizing that anything I'm doing, I'm investing in the future, and to be real deliberate about that. A verb I've been using in a lot of presentations and inviting people to play with is Ã”to cultivate.' So I would say, I'm a cultivator as a leader. And I recognize and play with that metaphor analogy. Shawn, a financial industry president, is invested in creating a positive work atmosphere that changes perceptions, motivates her team and uses metrics to measures her impact. Shawn states: I trust my employees and I'm transparent. But I'm very eager and driven. Thinking about the impact I've made on this market that I lead, I've been working really hard ever since I've gotten in this seat to change the reputation. And so I think my eagerness and my drive have helped towards that. People are desiring to work here, because they see that it is fun and challenging, and you aren't just dealing with crime and fraud and things like that. And so I'm very eager to the point where I have specific goals and I'm very determined and focused as far as these metrics go, to be either the number one in this or the number two with that or increase the metrics by twenty percentÃ‰those are just examples. Samantha, in her role as a cultural arts director is committe d to continuous improvement, and for her, making an impact is about "making it better." Samantha offers guidance to herself and her staff. She says: It all revolves around improving. Letting go of the stuff that is just superfluous and isn't getting anyb ody anywhere. And learning how to do what is done better, reaching
79 more people, and making it excellent. That whatever you do, whatever it may be, that the institution, that your group, the group you work with, the people are important to you. The world wh o receives the services. Anyone you come in contact with would be better for it. I truly believe that's how we will be better. What you may be doing in a given moment may be difficult. You may be wondering, why in the world am I doing this with these peopl e? How am I going to make this a better institution, a better environment, and an environment where someone can grow, learn and move on forward to other things, places, and fulfill who they are meant to be? And it is as I was growing up and taught to be, i f you don't leave this world a better place then, get the hell out of the way. Della, a leader in a medical/health organization describes her view of making an impact as both fun and a responsibility. Della is focused on giving, as she "carries the respon sibility" of how to make the people and places within her sphere of influence, better . Della states: It's like there's a big world out there and I want my part of it. And it's not just like I want to take, but more importantly, I want to give. And the giv ing part which is just both natural, but also I feel like it's my responsibility, that's something that I think we carry. I carry. Because I do believe to those whom much is given, much is expected. And so, we sort of carry it as a responsibility, but it' s also fun just to be part of making things better. This collective of Black women leaders as firsts all have a desire to create a lasting impact. They are clear. They are committed. They are deliberate. Samantha describes the inherent opportunity in ma king an impact. It's called legacy. She states:
80 When you leave an event at which I've been a part of, or a space that I have created, I want people to walk out with a pride, and information, and hope. I want people to leave thinking about: Let me go find out some more. Let me go do something. Let me go be good to people. I tell them to share what they've learned. I tell them to share this information especially with the children. Tell them what is possible. Tell them that African American history is American history. Tell them the contributions that have been made on their behalf and that they will make. Theme # 5: Collaborative/ Connector of People " First of all, I think the value that women and people of color bring to leadership teams is grounded in no small part in how we value relationships," says Della. Valuing people and relationships is a primary focus and operating principle for the participants in this study. As leaders, these Black women are highly collaborative, inclusive, team builders and strong connectors of people. While many leaders rely on others to get the job done, what stood out about these women was the importance and value they place on the contributions of others. They function as collaborators and facilitators to en gage others and to ensure the contributions of their colleagues are included. The significance of valuing people and their contributions as part of their leadership style demonstrates inclusion as a core value. For Maya, engaging others as a facilitator isn't just about hearing what others have to say, it's also recognizing the power of sharing ideas and evolving collective thought. She says: My style is kind of collaborative, facilitating, engaging, entrusting others, believing that others have knowledg e and information too, even as a leader. I had an excellent conversation with a group of faculty recently that just took it [the topic of mentoring and advising students of color] on, and they took it to levels that were so beautiful.
81 And so, for me to hav e what I consider the privilege of helping them understand how to do that better, I was very grateful in that process. And I think that does get to my leadership style, that I have high expectations of persons whom I lead. And I believe that they have insi ght, knowledge, etcetera that could help all of us accomplish what we're doing, rather than say in this case, I'm the expert on how to advise and mentor and I know so much about that. As a problem solver, Portia engages others as a team builde r to ensure t he best solutions are generated by including the perspectives of her colleagues. Portia states: There's no "I" in team, and so while I am transportation, I use my department and the foundation of how I lead to actually convey the message of the importanc e of team dynamics. I'm going in really facilitating the importance of team dynamics. I interact with over a hundred and ninety nine schools in the district, and principals. And so, with what they're trying to do, my focus is really trying to say at the en d of the day our goal is to ensure that the students that we serve, we're doing everything possible as a team. Shawn demonstrates her value for others' contributions and the importance of their unique insights. She solicits the input of every member of he r team irrespective of seniority. Shawn says:
82 That is not in every market in this company. I will just say that and I'll hear my junior people say wow I can speak at the meetings? Like absolutely you can speak at the meetings. And not only are you speaking, it's valued. As connectors of p eople, these leaders strategically leverage opportunities to accomplish the work in and through others. They know who to go to, and they initiate activities to orchestrate improvements. Portia describes herself as a "navigator." She says: I believe th at being able to create relationships, knowing who to go to, knowing how to use my relationships within the district, both internal and external in order to drive improvements within the organization helps me with my growth, one because I'm learning someth ing new. Della, has brought innovations to the workplace by connecting people to share information versus remaining in their "silos" and enjoys making introductions that spark new ideas and connections. She shares: Sometimes it's so you can leverage o pportunities. Oh you two need to know each other. And I like to do it out in the world too. Outside of work, I love to say do you know so and so? Oh let me broker lunch. You two need to kind of get together, because you're both working on the same thing or thinking about something similar. Let's get everyone's input on this, because I'd like to hear different perspectives. I might have a management trainee who's a lot more involved in operations than me. Maybe there's an issue on the teller line s. You've been up there. You, management trainee, give me your perspective. Everyone's voice is heard in my market whether you're a one day management trainee or you're an executive vice president. Hey I want to hear from you, can you tell me your perspect ive on this?
83 Joy, who emphasizes the use of a strategic plan as a key element of her leadership style, engages her team to produce the necessary outcomes. In her own words, "You have to inspire people to want to go with you, because you can't lead if no one is willing to follow." Joy connects with the people on her team by asking questions such as: "What does greatness look like in each area of campus?" "Envision it in your area of campus and what action steps are going to get us the re?" to facilitate introspection and ownership. Among the leaders in this study, Joy's connection with people is less affiliative and more strategic. Although she places a great emphasis on "the plan," she recognizes the importance people play in achievi ng great outcomes, and invests in making the connections and building the relationships needed to bring about the desired results. Connecting with others was also demonstrated through "mentoring," "affirmative interaction," and an "open door policy" that w elcomes people. Shawn describes her desire to see people realize their "potential," and takes an active role in their development through mentoring. She says: Honestly I really love seeing potential in people and bringing that out. And that is very impo rtant to me. I really want people to enjoy their job. The mentoring piece that I do with my leadership can be one on one and even in group settings. It's a very open relationship. [Speaking to her direct reports, she asks] Tell me about how things are goin g. Tell me what you need for me to better support you. Is this the right role for you? Maya, describes "affirmative interaction" as a concept she's developing to build positive interactions with people. As a change agent, Maya is highly focused on buildin g affirming
84 behavior for herself, and helping others discover how they too, can be intentional in their connection with others. She states: And maybe the key thing is expressing genuine appreciation. I guess that's it, really that's it. I call it affirmat ive interactionÃ‰ where you engage with others in ways that you affirm who they are and what they contribute. I've loved working with groups and asking them to come up with as many different verbs that go with affirming and respecting and valuing others tha t then lead you to the kinds of behaviors you can do. The moment she begins a new job, Samantha establishes an "open door policy" and a plan for connecting professionally and personally with those she reports to, and with those reporting to her. She says: W hen I come into a job, I get the minutes of the meeting. I get the books I see on the shelf of my bosses that you can see are well worn. What guides do they use? And you can tell that they read this person and their management principles or what h ave you . I've tried to read, not to re plicate, but to understand what motivates them. What' s important to them? So while I do that in a professional setting, I also make sure that I invite them to lunch, breakfast. [I invite] Bosses and direct reports, so that they get to know me. I have a strict open door policy. Anybody can come in any time and ask me for whatever they need, for whatever guidance they need. It may b e they need to just you know explode, because something's happened and it's unfair, unhelpful, mean or whatever. I have an open door policy. Each of these leaders demonstrates their value for people and their contributions. They are highly collaborative, and place great emphasis on accomplishing the work in and through others. As connectors of people, these Black women take the lead in their
85 institutions to build teams, foster inclusion and leverage the unique talents people bring to produce great outcome s. Theme # 6: Use Their Voice The six participants in this study are accomplished leaders, strong contributors in their institutions, and making an impact by using their voice. In their own way and using their own personal style, each of them is leaving an imprint on their respective organization. In childhood, they each found their voice; as senior leaders they are unapologetic in speaking their truth. As she approaches her sixtieth birthday, Della is decidedly clear that "speaking her truth," must out weigh the need to be liked or to play nice. She is focused on being able to facilitate the "tougher conversations" and finding the balance to create meaningful exchanges. She says: How can I facilitate the tough conversations? How can I help with the tou gher things that we need to work on? Be the voice of people? I'll be sixty, I can't believe this in three months. I'm just you know, I'm just going to be crass, fuck them if they don't like it. That's what I say. I am weary with being nice all the time. S o then in light of being weary it's not that I walk in looking like Diary of a Mad Black Woman or some crazy, disaffected checked out person. But it's living something that I've said, and I think I'm kind of really coming into. It's been sort of I'm on tha t path of speaking my truth quietly and clearly to others. And, I think the mind is critical in that, because there's also this recognition that my truth is about how I perceive something, and someone else may see it differently. The six participants in t his study have achieved the recognition of becoming the first Black woman to occupy their position; they are also lauded as valuable resources whose
86 insights help shape the culture and the direction of their organization. To use their voice, means to spea k up when there is disparity, to speak out against injustice and to speak to a perceived need and then to help fill it. Portia describes the impact she is able to have working collaboratively with the local school district in planning and generating trans portation solutions. She says: Here in transportation, I tend to bring a different perspective. Thinking about communities where kids come from. Thinking about some of the obstacles that they've faced. Since we're [school bus drivers] the first person to see them, and we're the last person to see them before they go home, we have somewhat of an influence when the district is thinking about, do we make a change, do we close the schools? Part of it is understanding this is their community, and why not just, you know fix the schools in their community? Why bus them off somewhere else? Why bus them off to another community where the schools are better? Make the schools better in their own neighborhood. And so, as a result of that, [representing those perspecti ves] I feel like leadership has totally embraced and trusted me with creating transportation solutions that benefit some of the overarching goals that they've set in place. Each of these women use their voice creatively, powerfu lly, and with wise discernme nt. At times, they speak boldly. At times they remain quiet as they listen and learn from others. Always, they use their voice to speak authentically. Maya, offers a great example of using her voice creatively to foster dialogue and invite others to me et organizational needs. She states: I know so much about different ways of communicating and how to be effective, that also incorporates power dynamics and recognizing those. So the way that I designed
87 this conversation was not about people needing to ge t other people to change their votes, it's that you get voice to say which one do you want and why? Maya also uses her voice to encourage Black women she's mentoring to understand their power and to use it wisely, strategically. She says: It is important for you to have Ã”agency' regardless of who you are, and to recognize that you can make choices by default or by design. And as I said earlier, you can go along with power dynamics. You can choose to go along with them, because you recognize how that's help ing you to move along, without feeling, or you may feel a bit that you're yielding. And yet, for me to yield at certain points has allowed me to get here. Samantha uses her voice to foster greater introspection and to require accountability. During our in terview, she describes multiple situations where either a client or the leaders in her organization are openly vocalizing racially biased views. In the first account, Samantha uses her voice wisely, and responds to her client's racist allegations with grace. He presumes her admission to a highly selective college, as a Black student, is the basi s for his daughter's rejection. Ultimately, she is able to influence her client to reflect and shift his thinking to achieve a positive outcome. Samantha shares her account of their verbal exchange: Client: You went to [name removed] College. Samantha: Yes, I di d. Client: My daughter was rejected. You took her place. Samantha: Well that's an interesting way to look at it. I mean I'm presuming now you decided we went at the same time. I got in and she didn't, and I'm very sorry, but did she have a successful coll ege experience?
8 8 Client: Well yes. Samantha: So did I. And you don't think any of the white girls could have taken her place? You don't think that there were other people applying? You got this job. Did you take it from other people? Rather than focus o n his insults, Samantha skillfully pivots the conversation to let her client know they share a common bond: she too, has family from his home state. As a result, he begins to soften his response and become more open. Samantha's account of their exchange continues: The client said: "What, your people are from here?" And he started talking about his beloved home state, and we started talking, and he was reminiscing about growing up, and he finally got around to: "So what are you all here to do?" And I told him what we were there to do and he looked at me, he said: "Go ahead, go on, we'll talk again." Well within the two weeks, he took me to a chamber of commerce meeting as his guest at the chamber meeting. He went out to lunch with me, and when he would say things that were racist, I asked him was that really what was in his heart? Or was that really what was good for business? I didn't berate him, and we got through it, did all the work we needed to do, and it turned into a positive reality. In a second a ccount, Samantha describes a meeting with senior execu tives where one of the leaders, says: "Let's start this meeting, we're all honest white people here." Horrified, Samantha manages to use her voice and speak to the leaders regarding their behavior and t he severity of the situation. She states: And I said, let's be clear here. You didn't flinch. When you first heard that, every white man in the room had heard that phrase before. I'm the only one who hadn't
89 heard that phrase before. You didn't flinch until you looked up and saw me. And you may not have known what to do, but don't act like you haven't heard that before or said it. I said, so let's not start this in this way. I'm putting you on notice. Samantha acknowledges she was too stunned and shocke d to know what else to do in that moment. She sought counsel from an outside consultant, a Black woman also working with the company, who helped her sort out her feelings and options. Samantha's key takeaway from this experience is speak up. She says: W henever anything happens that is this kind of crazy, out of bounds sexist, racist behavior occurs, make some noise. We as black people think we all have to have the right comeback. We think we have to say something slick, and smooth, and crisp and clear. I t's not always possible. You may have to say Ã”we'll put a pin in that one and we'll come back to it,' but make a noise. And from that experience with the consultant's coaching, with her checking in on me, telling me to find the right person in that company that I trusted, who would do as I asked and help craft the restitution I needed, they enacted the diversity training program; they absolutely trained everybody. Given the intersectionality of racism and sexism, the road for these Black women leaders has been paved with challenges. In describing her experience of frequently being the only Black person on a committee, Joy states: "I mean I understood why I was there, but I'm never a token. Even if they put me there as a token. I'm never a token. I speak up . I say what I'm going to say." When doors have not readily opened, even with mentors and sponsors, (and for several of these women mentors did not exist), each of these Black women have
90 pressed their way to be heard and to persuade others to listen. Bol dly, and unapologetically, Shawn refuses to be overlooked, diminished or silenced. She states: A lot of times the female voice isn't heard or acknowledged. Especially the minority female voice. For instance, you can be at a meeting at the table and say so mething, nobody responds to it, and somebody else says the exact same thing, and oh yeah, yeah, and everybody responds. I'm the person who would say: "Denise, I'm pretty sure I just said that." When I hear, "I was just confirming what you said." My respons e is: "No you weren't. You were trying to steal my thunder. I said it, and I want to get credit for it." And so that's the boldness in me that I've had to learn over the years to know when it's appropriate to do things like that and when to tone it down a little bit. And if this ever turns into a role where I do need to be silent and sit somewhere in the corner and just accept my paycheck, be quiet, then I'm not going to be here, because that's not who I am. And so I'm always bringing up issues or whatever that's relevant to Black people, Hispanic people, whatever they need to hear. I'm just not going to be silent. I'm going to be who I am. I've never compromised who I am. And I'm not going to start just because I have this title. The essential element of this theme is voice, and the operative word is use ... they use their voice and in doing so, they have brokered their way to get a respected seat at the table. Della describes the opportunity they each have as leaders to use their influence. She states: I don't know that leaders always recognize that they have both formal and informal leadership jobs. We think that all of our power is positional, but that's not the truth. In
91 fact, I'd say that that's the minor, even though it looks like the big one becau se you got a title. And so we have a chance to lead from where we stand, and we don't have to stand or swim away. There are ways where you can work through, back to using your influence to get things done and I have learned, that you can do it and I can do it. I'm going to use my Ã”I' words in respectful ways that actually invite people back. Sometimes they may bug you and you have to do more work, but it's because they recognize you're a good partner. The six themes that emerged from the data, specifically th e lived experience of these six participants, formed a landscape of collective wisdom. These themes offer a guide for achievement, a record of accomplishment, and a myriad of success strategies that illustrate the journey of Black women becoming firsts and thriving in positions of leadership and authority. Other Key Findings A review of the transcri pts highlighted four additional findings in this study: 1) the leaders came from families where neither parent had attended college; 2) the leaders were curious and inquisitive, a combination of traits that increased their exposure to new opportunities; 3) the leaders consist ently said "yes" to opportunity; and 4) the leaders were not hindered by class. As I reflected on the participants' collective experience, these factors occurred repeatedly, and therefore serve as supplemental data as we search for meaning in their common lived experience. Th e Leaders Came F rom Families Where Neither Parent Had Attended College
92 The participants in this study were neither thwarted or negatively impacted by their parents' education levels. Although none of their parents were college grad uates, all of the participants attained bachelor ' s degrees, and three of the six completed postgraduate education. Going to college was directly related to the messages they received about themselves and the encouragement their parents/family provided. The parents of these participants demonstrated their value for a college education when they communicated directly wi th messages such as "you're smart" and "you're going to college." Samantha recalls the clearest message of all was "you're going to college you're going to accomplish great things." Della, the one participant who described a dysfunctional upbringing, was still affirmed by her father as his "smart one," and was told by her godmother/Auntie, "you're going to college." Repeatedly, these leaders described love and affirmation as their most important take away from home. Receiving a strong foundation to buil d their confidence was perceived as a greater asset than their parents' highest level of attained education. These leaders represent a strong example of college graduates who succeeded in the workplace while having parents who did not go to college. This finding serves to fortify parents and their children who aspire to go to college as first generation students. As Della says, when she speaks to prospective college students as a first gen student herself: "Dream Big," and "Don't let anybody tell you, yo u can't." The Leaders Were Curious and Inquisitive a Combination of Traits That Increased Their Exposure to New Opportunities All of the participants shared an interesting quality, curiosity. Beginning in early childhood and as young adults, they were curious to observe what their peers were doing and
93 confident enough to speak up and ask questions. They were not shy or timid. For example, curious and observant, Maya asked questions, and did what she saw others do. Her mimicking others included taking college admission tests, applying to college, and ultimately deciding where she would attend college, even when it seemed unlikely her mother would be able to afford to send her. Similarly, Joy learned by following her classmates to take the SATs and to audition for the very selective Music and Art High School in New York. Portia, who was also curious and observant asked lots of questions. As a UPS driver at one point in her life, going in and out of offices, Portia saw someone working in a position she wanted to one day assume for herself. She recognized that she wanted to be a leader; that she wanted to have one of those corner offices. To accomplish her goal, Portia began to ask, and inquire, and talk to people, to find out "How did you get there?" "What did you do?" "What was your path?" Initially, I thought it was the power of seeing an opportunity that helped our leaders to reach great achievements. Upon further reflection of their commentary, the traits of being curious to observe, and confide nt enough to ask, yielded the clarity of this last finding. Curiosity and inquiry combined, attracted new opportunities. In the illustrations cited above, both Maya and Joy made friends with their white classmates, rather than remaining closed off, aloof, distant or angry. Joy's curiosity and expressed interest to learn from others continued as a repetitive theme throughout her adult life, opening doors to new experiences and attracting mentors. These findings suggest that curiosity is a good start; howe ver, inquiry based on relationship and engagement combines to create the winning formula, for discovering new paths and directions. To this day, these leaders continue to utilize these traits skillfully and powerfully as self professed change agents and l ifelong learners.
94 The Leaders Consistently Said "Yes" to Opportunity When doors of learning and opportunity opened, these participants didn't hesitate, they were prepared and ready to walk through them. These leaders boosted by self confidence and an open curiosity to try new things, consistently said "yes" to new opportunities and as a result, they learned new skills, built their resume and their influence. They were willing to explore new geographies, and to move around the country. They were inter ested to meet new people and make useful connections. Their yes was not a cowering response to fear, but rather a use of their Ã”agency.' They demonstrated there's power in saying yesÃ‰power to explore, advance, learn and grow. For some, their yes is fuel ed by faith, and for others it's motivated by their dreams and knowing there's a bigger world out there. For all of them, it's a willingness to step into new territory, to see where the possibilities might lead them. These leaders transformed their own e xperience and the expectations of others around them, by showing up with courage and confidence, saying yes to opportunity . The Leaders Were Not Hindered b y Class The participants were raised in stable families with economic income levels that ranged from working poor to working middle class. The operative word is working. None of the participants were raised with a poverty mindset. Regardless of their family's earned income or material status, they d id not feel poor or perceive themselves as lacking. All of the participants came from families despite education level or societal class definition that worked to invest in opportunities and access to resources for their children. As a result of the combination of tra its and attributes presented in the first three findings, all of the participants were able to benefit from the resources of scholarships, tuition reimbursement, increased
95 exposure and access to graduate and postgraduate job opportun ities . Their current level s of professional achievement serve to demonstrate class was not a perceived barrier or limiting factor to hinder these leaders' success. Response to Research Questions The two research questions that guided this study were des igned to: 1) to discover the underlying conditions that contribute to Black females becoming the first to hold a position of leadership and authority; and 2) to discover the underlying conditions that enable Black women to thrive in their leadership positi ons. The answers to these questions were informed by the themes presented in the findings. Question 1: What are the underlying conditions that contribute to becoming the first Black female in a position of leadership and authority ? The participants in t his study demonstrated that strong, supportive family, a strong sense of self/self confidence and resilience/adaptability enabled them to excel and succeed in the workplace. The qualities and traits described in the first three themes, prepared and under girded them as trailblazers in their respective fields. Each of the leaders in this study, were equipped by strong family as a nucleus of support that affirmed them and unconditional love to build their self confidence. Resilience and adaptability enable d them to stand and withstand the challenges they faced, as evidenced by their creative ability to take on less than desirable assignments and accomplish significant outcomes. These leaders all rise to meet and exceed the expectations of others, to set th eir sights high and achieve their goals. They are willing to navigate unknown territory and step out on faith. The traits reflected in these first three themes combine to form a powerful equation, and offer our leaders the strong, confident and resilient foundation to be first.
96 Question 2: What are the underlying conditions that enable Black women leaders to thrive? In my dissertation proposal (p. 47) I defined to thrive as flourishing, in contrast to fitting in to maintain the existing corporate culture and being able to influence social and organizational change. The underlying conditions that enable these leaders to thrive are the aggregate of the six themes presented in the findings. The traits of the first three themes offer the leaders a foundation of fortitude to carry the responsibility of a senior level position; the traits of the remaining three themes offer the motivation, the mechanism and the tool for influe ncing change. These leaders are motivated by a desire greater than their own personal gain, and are truly engaged to make an impact and help others. As connectors of people they are inclusive, highly relational, and work collaboratively to achieve busine ss outcomes. Last, they use their voice to help change systems and beliefs. The traits of the six themes, supportive family, strong self confidence, resilience/adaptability, desire to make an impact/help others, collaborative/connector of people and use their voice, combine dynamically to demonstrate how these leaders are set apart in excellence and influence to thrive. Advice to Young Black Women and Recommendations to Organizational Leaders As part of the interview protocol the participants were asked to offer their advice and insights for young Black women entering the workforce and recommendations for organizational leaders committed to cultivating Black women as leaders. I elected to use the actual voice of the participants. The lists that follow are a compilation of their responses. See Appendix E : Advice to Y oung Black Women; See Appendix F : Recommendations to Organizational Leaders, for specific references and quotes by participant.
97 Advice to Young Black Women The following list of "advice" is a collection of practical wisdom generated by the participants in support of cultivating Black women as leaders learning to thrive. Beliefs â€¢ ! Love, love, love yourself! You are loveable. â€¢ ! Don't let anyone tell you, you can'tÃ‰including yourself, especially yourself . â€¢ ! Believe with hard work, there are payoffs. â€¢ ! Understand and nurture your powerÃ‰ you Ã”have agency.' Recognize you can make choices by default or design. â€¢ ! Be in the present, enjoy the ride. If you focus too much on the next hill, you will miss the lessons and opportunities to grow and be enriched with what is happening in the moment. Courage/Authenticity â€¢ ! Dream, dream, dreamÃ‰Dream Big Dreams. â€¢ ! Do your best work every day. â€¢ ! Be willing to serve and meet a need. â€¢ ! Be your authentic self and be po litically savvy. â€¢ ! Step out and be courageous. Be brave. â€¢ ! It's ok to be vulnerable. It's courageous to say Ã”I don't know, Ã”or Ã”I'm worried,' or this happened to me. â€¢ ! Understand the organizational culture and develop your own personal style; be attracting not distracting. â€¢ ! Recognize you're under a microscope. Give them something to behold. â€¢ ! You will work doubly hard to be considered equalÃ‰especially if you choose to soar. â€¢ ! Use obstacles and challenges as a method to strengthen you and give you courage. â€¢ ! Defy the stereotypes. Don't let other people define you. Don't let society or what you see on TV dictate your life.
98 Learning/Opportunity â€¢ ! Develop an area of competency; learning something new builds confidence. â€¢ ! Keep up in your field. Stay knowledgeable so you're prepared and ready when opportunity strikes. â€¢ ! Take advantage of and say yes to opportunities. When doors open, walk through them. â€¢ ! Be intentional about learning and growing. Be responsible for your own growth. â€¢ ! Commit to lifelong learning . Self Care â€¢ ! Exercise great self care. Find restful places. Take time for you. Make time and do the things that will fill you back up. â€¢ ! Find your thingÃ‰the thing that inspires you. Go back to the source of your inspiration when you need to refuel an d lift your spirits. â€¢ ! Be clear about your personal and professional priorities. Create work/life balance. Support/Mentoring â€¢ ! Create a Ã”success circle' or Ã”Board of Directors of You,' to help you accomplish whatever you want to accomplish. Include a w ide variety of people. â€¢ ! Build relationships with Ã”thought leaders' even in a different field. Seek resources, role models and invite mentors. â€¢ ! Don't assume people of color who look like you will be supportive. â€¢ ! Leadership can be lonelyÃ‰Know when you need help. Ask for help. â€¢ ! You need a good mentor, support systemÃ‰God. â€¢ ! Have good, genuine women in your life. Surround yourself with wise, intellectually stimulating women. Recommendations to Organizational Leaders The following list is a set of recommendations generated by the participants for
99 organizational leaders committed to cultivating leadership in Black women and helping them to thrive. Commitment to Cultivate Black Women as Leaders â€¢ ! Open doors and provide opp ortunities for Black women to grow, to learn and to network. â€¢ ! Cultivate Black women for leadership, and see it as highly reciprocal; Black women have insight that can help you lead more inclusively. â€¢ ! Give Black women access to a wide variety of opportunities; be mindful not to unconsciously steer them in the direction where "you think" they should go. â€¢ ! Specifically, identify opportunities to lead. Provide access to leadership programs and opportunities to develop as leaders. â€¢ ! Create a sustainable, inclusive, and supportive environment. Make sure the voices of Black women are heard consistently. â€¢ ! Pay attention and notice the environment; notice when Black women step down from leadership or leave. â€¢ ! Understand that no matter how much y ou may think you treat everybody the same, we are not the same; create the space for Black women to get the same explicit and implicit support that is given to white men. â€¢ ! Black women may carry some interesting things in their "tinier" privileged backpack , but power is not one of them; therefore, you have a big responsibility to mentor and sponsor them. Expanded View of Leadership â€¢ ! Express genuine appreciation; affirm who they are and what they contribute. â€¢ ! Expand your view to see the potential in all Black women; see almost any African American woman who is in your organization as someone to cultivate for leadership. â€¢ ! Do not be limited by iconic images, and famous Black women as your only images for success.
100 â€¢ ! Leave preconceived notions at the do or. Specifically, your sense of what Black women can or can't do and your preconceived notions of what leadership looks like. â€¢ ! Be open to having your views shaped of what authentic, strong leadership isÃ‰because there's more than one way. Professional Development/Mentoring â€¢ ! Know who you are willing to help, mentor and develop. Know their starting point, strengths and limitations. Be all in if you decide to help someone. â€¢ ! Be supportive, and offer unwavering support; provide feedback and coaching to address performance challenges or need for improvement . â€¢ ! Entrust them with important projects. Resource them so they can succeed. Be mindful of lowered expectations. Raise the bar and give them the feedback to grow and develop. â€¢ ! Don't make assumptions: ask Black women directly for feedback and to give input to the kind of experience and support they need. â€¢ ! Groom. Teach. Provide learning opportunities. Encourage self development and self care. â€¢ ! Help Black women navigate the learning curve, remind them the y are capable and encourage them to keep going. â€¢ ! Provide a clear assessment of skills; offer guidance and clear feedback to help i dentify and structure assignments to build success. â€¢ ! Tell the hard truth. If someone is in over their head, help them to get reassigned. â€¢ ! Mentor Black women. Mentors show you the ropes; they provide an "apprenticeship " and show you how the work gets done. Mentors make introductions to people of influence, offer ongoing support and remain advisors, sometimes "friends" for life. ! ! Self Awareness/Cultural Development â€¢ ! Learn about Black women's history and contributions. Learn about Black feminists and epistemology; become educated about the rich culture, contributions and challenges for Black women. â€¢ ! Platinum rule: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them. That necessitates asking the woman with genuine curiosity: "what would it take for me to help you get from where you are now to your aspirations?"
101 â€¢ ! Own your biases and develop the tools need ed to address them. â€¢ ! Recognize and remove unfair expectations to have Black women sit on committees and mentor others (i.e. do the social work, in addition to their job function); and if expected to serve in these ways, count this participation equally as valuable to their other job duties. Valuing Diverse Contributions â€¢ ! Respect and encourage individual expression. Value different styles of contribution. â€¢ ! Recognize the value of building a diverse team; in addition to the work benefit, diverse leadership teams provide models to help encourage and inspire young children of color. â€¢ ! Be intentional and purposeful to recognize the unique gifts and contributions each person brings to the team, and find ways to use them.
102 CHAPTER V DISCUSSION When I began to formulate the tenets of this study, I set out to find Black women whose professional lives would provide real life examples to explore what it means and looks like to thrive. While the ills of gendered racism still exist, I believed there were women in senior levels of leadership who had found a way, made a way , in spite of the barriers and the concrete ceiling that remains in place to try and limit them. The beauty of this research study is that I found them! Through the informal networks created by convenience and snowball sampling methods, I gained access and had the privilege to meet six remarkable women: Portia, Maya, Shawn, Samantha, Della and Joy. As I sat and listened to each of them, I marveled at their journey; the path t hat started as a little girl and had brought them to today, in their corner office. While they are unique in their individual experience, intentionally selected to represent different geographies and career fields, I found a universality among them as wel l. I am grateful to each of them for sharing openly, graciously, and generously, that I might capture their stories and discover the shared meaning of their lived experience, a deeper understanding of what it means to thrive. The essence or phenomenon of this study is to thrive. In developing my research proposal, I started with Merriam Webster's (2017) definition, thrive:1. to grow vigorously: flourish; 2. to gain in wealth or possessions: prosper; 3. to progress toward or r ealize a goal despite or because of circumstances. I have learned from the participants in this study through their descriptions and behavior, to thrive is : to be intentional, influential, inclusive, relational, add value, help others, use their voice, sp eak and be heard, challenge and disrupt
103 systems of the status quo, challenge and change limiting beliefs, walk in confidence, love, love, love, yourself and leave it better. Cultivating Black Women Leaders to Thrive Sitting with each of these incredible women was both inspiring and transforming. The gift and the takeaway from listening to their journeys, is to be able to share their triumphs and challenges with others. My goal as a Black female researcher is to use my work to make a deposit in young Blac k girls and to improve Black women's lives. The stories of Black women as leaders aren't new, but for a myriad of reasons they are often hidden, lost or untold. And because these six women have flourished and continue to thrive, we can as Allen (2002) says, "accentuate the positive, in spite of the effects of gendered racism and share concrete examples for those coming after them to emulate" (p.2 6). The findings revealed several key elements that demonstrate and contribute to the participants' ability to thrive. The three pillars that formed the conceptual framework for this study are covered in the section that follows. The strong foundation of family addresse s self efficacy; the value of support reflects the outcomes of professional development; and the power to shift organizational culture describes the third pillar. The Strong Foundation of Family When family , broadly defined as parents in the home, exten ded family, church family, and community offers safety, support, and unconditional love, young children thrive. For these participants there is no substitute or greater gift than the love of family. These women, as little Black girls were affirmed in the ir homes, their church, their neighborhood and at school. They were told they were "smart" and were "leaders" and they believed the parents, aunties, and teachers who told them. This nucleus of support taught them it was okay to be
104 curious and their voic e mattered. Mostly, they learned they were loveable and they learned to love themselves. Parents as first teachers and role models. I began each interview asking the participants to reflect on their childhood, any significant experiences, messages they received, and the people who stood out in their lives. Each of them readily described their home life and the images and impact of unconditional love and acceptance that surrounded them. Only one of the study participants described her home as "dysfuncti onal and chaotic," yet, she too was able to receive strength and a strong foundation from the expanded circle called family. Mothers, several fathers, and a few grandmothers were the primary role models for these women. The compelling point here is uncon ditional love doesn't cost money or require a college education. None of the parents of the participants in this study went to college, and two of the participants were raised by single mothers and came from low income families. While four of the study p articipants described their upbringing as working/middle class, money was not the important factor in any of their stories. The values of love, acceptance, generosity, caring, faith, and support for learning outside the home were modeled in all of their f amilies. To affirm a value for education and to feed your child the inspiration of "you're going to college," is not based on money but rather, intention. The power of affirming messages. In this study we get to see the power of affirming messages play out as self fulfilling prophecy in the lives of these six participants. We've all experienced the power of messages, our first images of self are formed in the faces and the words of the people around us. As Vygotsky (1978) contends, small children are a blank slate, an open canvas ready to receive information through social interaction and from more knowledgeable others (MKOs) about how they are perceived in the world. These
105 participants were nurtured to believe they were "role models," "exceptional," a nd could be first, to lead versus follow others. The unconditional love, support and affirming messaging these participants received helped to build their self confidence. A strong sense of self/self confidence manifested in these little girls as an inn er knowing, a belief in oneself. They were taught their ideas and what they had to say mattered. Self confidence continues to serve them as a source of fuel, and a deep well that they can tap into regardless of what the world around them may be saying. These leaders demonstrate this sense of self and inner resolve by stepping up to advocate for themselves and knowing they have a contribution to make. When the world says "you can't," each of these women in their own way and in their own words, says, "yes I can, watch me." The self confidence they walk in now is a manifestation of the affirming messages they received in childhood. Notably, each of these women have built lives and careers that exemplify their childhood messages. Strong, supportive family, offers significant opportunity to provide a rich foundation for all children, specifically, Black girls. We can fortify and equip parents to know they have a fundamental role to play as "first teachers" and positive role models irrespective of education or income level. Extended family, church, and other community leaders also share in the formation and the foundation of affirming Black girls' positive self image. Together, we can act with intention to teach Black girls their voice matters. Through the demonstration of unconditional love and acceptance we can teach Black girls to love themselves, and that they matter . Let us model for Black girls how they should expect to be treated in the world, based on how we treat them at home. The Value of Support [Systems]
106 In this study support is described as advice, care, direction, guidance, help, information, listening, relief and mentoring. Sometimes support was provided by a trusted source one on one, other times these women formed small groups and informal "sister circles" as a means of sharing. Support is a broad term, and for the many relative applications in the lived experience of these leaders, it is a significant element in this study, viewed by the participants as invaluable to their success. Mentor ing . These powerful and remarkable women have achieved breakthroughs in their respective field, by becoming the first Black woman to hold their current position. While some learned how to navigate their corporate culture with the help of mentors and spon sors, several of them lacked that support. " No one does it alone," that's what their collective voices say. Whether they had the benefit of mentors or not, all of the participants recognize the importance and necessity of having someone to Ã”show you the ropes' to decipher and translate the implicit norms of an organization's culture. For these participants, the support garnered from mentors was quite mixed, (a) a few of them had mentors that literally helped translate and decode their work environment; ( b) others sought out people they admired and asked them to serve in that role; (c) several watched what other leaders did, carefully observing what worked and what didn't to find their own way. These leaders realize when you don't have a roadmap you must create one . Having few Black women to look to as mentors or models at the senior level, they forge new paths, they learn by looking at others and they build allies to form support circles. As I listened to the participants, I learned they build support with a diverse set of people, white, black, male, female as long as they are a trusted source. They form strategic networks with people having a range of talents, both inside and outside of their organization.
107 With the numbers of Black women in senior l evel positions remaining low as compared to other groups, these leaders know it is essential to build allies and a broad base of support. The advice posited by one of the participants to young Black women is, Ã”create a board of directors of you.' This co ncept reminds Black women to look for breadth and depth of skill and experience as they build their circles of support. The second piece of that advice is, Ã”And don't forget Aunt Mae, she may not have more than a fifth grade education but she's wise and k nows a lot of stuff.' The key is to find the people of value, and the people who value you. Sister circles . The participants also recognize the necessity for laughter and rest. As they reflected on the stress and pull of being the Ã”only,' they acknowl edged being at the top can also be lonely. They have learned to thrive also means finding balance, having your personal priorities in order and remembering to exercise great personal self care. The informal Ã”sister circles' they create both in and outsid e of the workplace give them a space to gather with women who look like them, a place to share their stories with women who can relate, and a refuge to unwind. These leaders know taking the time to surround themselves with women they can trust and rest wi th is an essential element of support. Giving back . The leaders are committed to helping others, to giving back. They make themselves available to other young women, especially Black women needing support. Their participation in this study is an example of how they share their insights as a way of giving back. These women watched their mothers, aunties and grandmothers lean in and lend a hand to help a friend in need. That legacy carries over to the workplace. They all described mentoring and supporting other women as one of the things they not only do, but are the most passionate about. They are committed and dedicated to sharing their Ã”lessons
108 learned' to help other s coming along after them. As Black women at the top, these senior level leaders accept the additional responsibility to help others, especially those who look them. While these participants were careful to note you can't assume just because someone is B lack they will be supportive, they also know when we can see someone who looks like us, it's empowering. Models tell us we can, mentors show us how , and sponsors open doors . Now that these women have reached the senior levels of organizational position a nd power they serve as all three. They realize others may be watching them and so they say Ã”give them something to behold,' they strive to be the best and provide an excellent example. These leaders raise the bar of expectations as they push others along and teach their protÂŽgÂŽs the unspoken and unwritten rules of an organization. They now leverage their power and influence to serve as sponsors, opening doors and creating opportunities for others. These leaders know the value of support; they know suppor t is necessary to thrive. The participants continue to excel and succeed in spite of the odds. Given their current accomplishments, I wonder what level of achievement might be possible, if they didn't have to work twice as hard, or have to pay the Ã”emotio nal tax' of being on guard, facing bias and micro aggressions? Based on the models of support they received and didn't receive , these leaders are actively engaged in advancing the cause of change to remove barriers and create easier access for those comin g after them. As we learned from these leaders, support is vital to success. Together we need to teach skills, cultivate leadership, create avenues for advancement and build allies. If Black women are to be successfully mentored and cultivated as leade rs, it will take acts of intention and a broad base of support. The Power to Shift Organizational Culture
109 The study participants have earned positional aut hority and legitimate power (French & Raven, 1959), by definition of their title and rank. As Schein (2010) describes, they have mastered the unwritten rules and norms of the organization to be recognized as a valued member of the leadership team. However, as we reflect on the journey of t hese six leaders and the narratives of countless other Black women as presented in my literature review, their road is paved with challenges, uncertainties and resolve. For Black women who accept the challenge to navigate an organizational system and rise to achieve levels of success, they must resist the dynamics of power that remain in place to define and limit them. The leaders in this study stand out as true trailblazers, initiating powerful and effective ways to use their influence and their voice to create social and organizational change. Unafraid and unapologetic . Organizations are notoriously prescriptive with their rules and the right way of doing and behaving. When these "rules of right" (Allen, 2011) maintain dominance and power differential s, such an environment potentially creates a lose lose for Black women; they are continually faced with either challenging the status quo and being perceived as resistant, or giving up their sense of self to buy in to the norms and messages espoused by the organization. The leaders all use their voice to challenge the status quo and seek change. To maximize their effectiveness, they use their Ã”agency' to pick their battles, and they are strategic and intentional. Unafraid and unapologetic, they speak up and speak out when injustices occur or inequities prevail. Rather than conceal or avoid contentious situations, they use their power and influence to facilitate dialogue, foster introspection and problem solve solutions. No longer limited or encumbered b y the fear of being fired, they refuse to sit silent, and as a result they have gained the respect to speak and be heard.
110 Unique contribution . As Collins (1991) describes, "the Ã”outsider within' has a distinctive angle of vision" of being both Black and female. In spite of the societal liabilities perpetuated by gendered racism, these leaders have taken off the blinders and linear vision of either/or, and walk in the power and promotion of both/and. As hooks (2014) reminds us, Black women have had to as suage the battles of racism and sexism (and other isms, classism, ageism,) and out of their experience and resilience, they bring a unique vantage point to lead others. Knowing firsthand what it is like to be left out or overlooked, these women are compas sionate and thoughtful leaders. They are inclusive and they value the contributions of others. They are deeply rooted and committed to helping others develop and succeed. They are highly relational and collaborative, and they build strong teams. They u se their power and influence to break down the traditions of hierarchy by championing others, fostering shared visioning, encouraging collective learning, facilitating collaborative problem solving and other forms of dialogue, where individual voices and p erspectives are both invited and recognized. These Black women offer their organizations a unique opportunity to learn and uncover the practices and policies that perpetuate all forms of oppression and inequity. They are actively engaged to model and hel p shape a more inclusive organizational culture. By their example and investment, they have brokered a respected seat at the table; and as valued contributors, they are becoming an insider with influence. Summary The Black women that participated in this study are trailblazers, change agents, barrier breakers and bridge builders. As leaders, they are true exemplars of the 21 st century skills organizations need to be competitive: the skills of collaboration, open communication, empowerment, teamwork and i nclusion. This study corroborates the research findings of
111 Parker (2005), who also demonstrated these skills were inherent strengths of the African American Executives she studied. What's important to notice, is with these critical skills to offer the number of Black women in senior level positions continues to remain low as compared to other groups. The participants in this study and the six themes that emerged to depict their ability to thrive, do not provide a roadmap paved with guarantees. At best , they offer us a pathway lined with uncertatinty. And yet, given the option to give up or keep going, we can learn from their experience and look to the illustrations presented here of resilience and resolve, as a model to emulate. Sadly, there is no qu estion that gendered racism is a very r eal and present danger in 2018. Institutional systems remain in place to eliminate and evict Black women as credible, knowledgeable and valued leaders. The participants in this study do not thrive in the absence of a dversity, they do so in the face of it. The focus of this study was to not create some idyllic formula for success, but rather, to demonstrate the strength of character, confidence, resilience, competence, care and collaboration these women put forth on a daily basis. Their stories are important, not because they have transcended the foes of white male hierarchical standards that say as non whites they are not the standard of beauty and womanhood , and as non men they are not the standard of power, but because they show up and stand out anyhow. These leaders by virtue of their example remain beacons of light advancing the cause of Black women as talented and essential contributors. The six themes that emer ged in this study as leaderful attributes offer powerful insight for those charged with the development of young Black girls and women. As previously stated, they do not represent an idyllic formula for success, but they do illuminate
112 a path. T he six attributes are qualities that work together, dynamically, interactively and are interconnected. As I interviewed the leaders, given the challenges they continue to face, each of them described how on any given day one and /or several of these attri butes served to help them thrive. The foundation of family is not static; home, is often a place where Black women need to reach back to, or make a phone call to be reminded of t he i r strength, t he i r faith and find t he i r resilience. Collaborating with o thers, building systems of support and having a desire to make an impact greater than one's own self promotion or personal gain often provides the motivation to keep going. Those of us committed to develop Black girls and young Black women can elect to see these attributes as tools; tools we will intentionally use to teach and equip them with, as we cultivate them to realize their potential and grow to become leaders. Last, w e need orga nizational leaders to pay attention and to be intentional to monitor the specific progress and attrition rates of Black women. More importantly, we need organizational leaders to commit to developing Bl ack women as leaders and work to eliminate the barrie rs that con tinue to undermine their contri bution. As an outcome of this research, I plan to explore avenues to share the findings of this study, and in particular the advice to young women and the recommendations to organizational leaders . The wisdom and insight put forth by the participants in this study can serve to equip young Black women and encourage organizational leaders to expand their current view of lea dership. Organizations that are willing to change and embrace a new culture of fostering incl usion and welcoming leaders that both look and sound different, embolden Black women with power and authority.
113 Implications of Findings Figure 1. A powerpoint slide depicting the implications of the authors findings. This is a rallying cry to recognize the significant role parents, teachers/mentors and organizational leaders have to play in the development of Black girls and young Black women. Parents and extended family create the foundation for self confidence with love, affirming messages an d support; teachers and mentors positively affirm them and provide continued development; and organizational leaders create opportunities and open doors. As Black women advance to occupy positions of leadership and authority they serve as mentors and mode ls. We must teach Black girls and young Black women to love themselves , to recognize the value of their own contribution, and to take responsibility for their learning and growth. Together, let us be intentional to cultivate them as leaders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
114 Future Research This research study provides information and insights to add to the body of knowledge that affirms Black women as positive role models and leaders. Given the limitation of this study to focus on six participants, the next step would be to expand this study and collect more stories. After sharing this study at two national conferences, Race, Inequality, and Language in Education (RILE) at Stanford University, and Conference for Academic Research in Education (CARE) hosted by Univ ersity of Nevada, Las Vegas, this research has been well received and has generated considerable interest. This study has broad application and a wide range of appeal. It would be of value to collect additional stories expanding the geographies and organizational fields represented. The goal is to continue to de bunk limiting stereotypes and capture the stories of positive role models to share with Black girls and young Black women. Specifically, we can learn from senior level leaders the success strategies they have em ployed to advance their careers and shift organizational cultures. Another opportunity to augment and build on this research would be to ask participants to address the issue of pipeline. In addition to being the first, the six participants in this stud y were either the only Black female, or in one instance, was one of two Black women at their current level. This level of individual and/or minimal representation suggests that Black women are still numerical exceptions versus solidly integrated on senior level leadership teams. An important research question to add to this study would be: Can you identify other Black women, who are being developed to work alongside and/or to replace you?
115 For organizational leaders to be intentional to cultivate Black women as leaders, data collection must also be specific and deliberate. In reviewing organizational statistics for measures of diversity and inclusion progress, many track the progress of women , which can reflect white, and blacks , which may reflect men. T his method of reporting can easily result in misguided perceptions regarding the actual success rate and overlook the specific activity for Black women. Future research w ould include a mixed methods study to analyze organizational data assessing the spe cific hiring, promotion, retention and attrition rates for Black women, and any othe r measures that the participant's organization cu rrently collect s for women and blacks. Going forward it would be of value to continue to collect stories and capture success strategies of Black women who are able to thrive in the ir respective organizations. Addit i onally, it would be beneficial to measure the intentional behavior and activity on the part of organizational leaders to monitor the progress of Black women and to be deliberate to build successive pipelines.
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121 APPENDIX A Participant Invitation Letter Dr. S. K. Bowling President XYZ Corporation 10000 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90035 Date: Today's date Dear Suzanne, The purpose of this letter is to formally invite you to participate in a current research study entitled: The Journey of Black Women Becoming Firsts and Thriving in Positions of Leadership & Authority. Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Denise Materre, and I am currently a third year doctoral student at The University of Colorado, Denver. I am p ursuing an Ed. D degree in Educational Leadership and Equity. To meet the requirements for the degree and anticipated graduation, May, 2018, I have designed this research study as a clear area of passion and dedication for me. Black Feminist Thought says we as Black women have been substantially left out of traditional forms of scholarship, and societally, we are often viewed through the lens of negative stereotypes. As a fellow sojourner, I want to use my research to lay claim to the power of using our ow n voices to tell our own stories. As a Black female researcher, it is my greatest privilege to sit with you, listen, and mine the meaning of your story. I have identified you, and request the honor of your participation, by virtue of your current leadersh ip position (or recently vacated, substituted as appropriate). Visibly, we see your success and accomplishment as the first Black woman to occupy your position, but can we capture how did you get from your early beginnings to today? My belief is, you don't achieve this level of success, without there being a backstory. What is that story? My interest and my curiosity is to explore, where does the meaning lie for you in your story? Specifically, my request is for you to participate in two face to face int erviews, each scheduled to last 90 minutes. My offer is to come to your work site and to meet in a private location of your choosing. The interviews will be audio taped, and I will be the sole interviewer. My absolute commitment is to guarantee confidenti ality; at the time of the interview, I will seek your informed consent and will build in a plan to protect your identity, unless you give me permission otherwise. My timeframe for data collection, is to conduct both rounds of interviews between August Oct ober, 2017. Given your availability, I will make every effort to schedule at your convenience; to maximize your participation, we can
122 mutually decide if both interviews need to occur on the same day (i.e. morning and afternoon), or if your time will permi t scheduling them 1 2 weeks apart. For your willingness to reconstruct and reflect on your journey, what meaning for you personally might emerge out of your experience? And, how can we share your insights to help inform and guide other Black women, and gi rls, coming along after you? I think most would agree that every Black woman who has achieved any measure of success, knows she didn't get there alone. Your participation in this study, is one way to give back, honoring the women on whose shoulders you sta nd; and to pay it forward, by continuing the legacy to offer powerful models, and helping to create new sheroes. This is the work of emancipatory research: legacy, activism and social change. I sincerely hope you will choose to participate in this study. If you have any questions or need to discuss specific details to inform your decision, please do not hesitate to contact me via email or by phone. Otherwise, please expect my follow up with you in one week to confirm your response. My personal contact information is: Denise Materre Denise.W.Materre @ucdenver.edu (303) 791 4402 (Office); (303) 884 6800 (Cell) Thank you for considering my request for participation. Denise Attachment: Informed Consent Form
123 APPENDIX B Interview Protocol Thank you for agreeing to participate in this research study and for doing two face to face interviews with me. The purpose of this interview process is to invite you to reconstruct and reflect on your journey to becoming the first Blac k woman in your current position. To that end, let me state clearly there are no right or wrong answers, that I am searching for; I want to posture this interview as an opportunity to explore some of the significant messages you received, to identify those who may have encouraged or inspired you, and what you experienced along the way to help achieve your current leadership impact. As we explore the significant elements of your journey, both personally and organizationally, I will invite you to pause and re flect, in search of the meaning that exists for you in becoming the leader with influence you are today. Obtain Informed Consent: I would like to ask if you have any questions after reading the Informed Consent Form? Let's do a quick review, and I will ask for your signed copy before we begin. I am happy to provide a copy for your records; and I will keep one in a secured file cabinet in my office. Review Confidentiality and Identity Disclosure Agreement. Now that we've reviewed the form for consent, wh at is your preference regarding the disclosure of your identity? Other than this consent form, I will ensure your identity is not revealed and will create a pseudonym, to be used throughout this interview and in all written materials (including transcripti on), if that is your preference. Let's review the focus for each of the two interviews; each scheduled to last 90 minutes. Interview I: Messages from early childhood, as a young adult, and woman entering the workforce/starting your ca reer. Models, Mentors and Systems of Support Organizational Identity, Culture and Change Interview II: Review significant elements of the journey to becoming "the first" Black woman. Making Meaning: To identify the key elements that helped shape the leader with influence you are today. Reflections: What do you think about your journey, looking back, and standing in the present? What would you want to share with young Black girls and women? What do you want others to know who are interested in building organizational opportunity for Black women leaders moving forward? The overarching question for this research study is:
124 What are the underlying conditions that have contributed to your success in becoming the first Black woman in your position, and to your continuing to thrive in your position of leadership & authority? Define thrive: to flourish; one who is no longer limited to "fit" and maintain the existing cultur e but has the influence to affect social and organizational change. Interview I 1. ! To begin, please tell me about your childhood, and where you grew up. When you think about your family, school, your community, whatever formed the world around you, what wer e some of the messages you received as a child? (About how others saw you? How would they describe you?) Please describe any significant situations that occurred and some of the people from whom you received these messages. 2. ! At what point in your life did you begin to think about your future, what you wanted to do or be when you grew up? How were these ideas, (ambitions) formed? What did you see other Black women doing? What did you believe was possible to achieve? If you thought about future aspirations, w hat did you want to accomplish for yourself? 3. ! Tell me about your early work experience. How did you first identify or enter your chosen field? As a Black woman entering this organization what were the messages about Black women as leaders? How were those m essages conveyed? 4. ! Let's talk about learning the ropesÃ‰ in other words how to successfully navigate the organization. How did you "learn the ropes?" Were there any helpers or forms of support along the way? Please describe who they were and how they were helpful to you. Interview II Introduction: In this second interview, our focus will be to deepen our exploration of your experiences, inviting you to look back, stand in the present, and think forward, to determine what meaning you ascribe to your journe y and becoming the first Black woman to hold your current position. Before we do so, are there any topics from our first interview we need to re visit or clarify? (Note: This is an opportunity for either the Interviewer or Participant to re visit any of t he content from Interview I before moving to the questions in Interview II.) 5. ! How would you describe your leadership style? As we think about your leadership impact, tell me what thriving in your position looks like for you? How has the organization you currently lead, responded to your leadership? How have you been able to influence social and organizational change? 6. ! How would you describe what it means to you to be the first Black woman in your position? To others? To the organization? To the world around you?
125 7. ! Given your insights, what would you want to share with young Black girls and women? 8. ! What do you want others to know who are interested in building or ganizational opportunity for Black women leaders moving forward?
126 APPENDIX C Informed Consent
128 APPENDIX D Member Checking February 5, 2018 Dear ________, I am writing to share with you my initial draft of the narrative profile that I've created as a result of the interview you so graciously had with me several months ago. As you know, I am nearing completion of my doctoral studies and the dissertation rese arch you contributed to: The Journey of Black Women Becoming Firsts and Thriving in Positions of Leadership and Authority . I want to share this initial draft with you for two reasons: 1. to honor your participation by giving you a sense of some of the key elements that I took away from our conversation; and 2. to give you an opportunity to review how you're being introduced in my report, to ensure that you are comfortable with what I have documented. If there is anything that you would prefer I change for the sake of preserving your anonymity or for greater accuracy, please let me know. Please notice the pseudonym I assigned to you, to help conceal your personal identity. As a phenomenological study, the primary focus of my dissertation report will be on the common themes that emerged, versus a focus on any individual, as with a case study method. However, I have written the narrative profiles as my way of helping the reader get a glimpse of the unique personas of the six powerful leaders that I had the pr ivilege to meet as the basis of my study. Thanks to your generosity in sharing, I have collected a wealth of data and amazing stories. My goal is to finish my report and defend my thesis early April. Given this timeline, if you have any observations you would like to share, please email me by next Monday, February 12 th , 2018. I can't thank you enough. It has been my journey to sit with you, to learn, digest and now write, to document the incredible takeaways that emerged. I consider my findings based on your input to be significant, precious gems. As an outcome of this study, it is my sincere desire to contribute to the body of knowledge that informs the experience of Black women in leadership. I will share my final report when it's completed. I pray to f inish strong and do you proud. Denise
129 APPENDIX E Advice to Young Black Women Portia Use obstacles and challenges as a method to strengthen you and give you courage. Because you said I couldn't do it, I'm going to do it anyway. Don't let society or what you see on TV dictate your life. Don't let them dictate what your path or journey should look likeÃ‰it may be different You can accomplish whatever you want to accomplish . The path in which you take is the path that is designed for you, and if you have great intentions on learning as you go, you will reach your destination. Have good, genuine women in your life. It's important to have some really good women in your life. Other African American women, black women in your life th at can mentor you and share their stories. To be able to hear their stories, to hear their struggles, and to also have that encouragement. Someone who's going to challenge you. Someone who's going to encourage you. Someone who's going to hold you accountab le. Someone to say you can do it. Or someone saying I don't think that is something that you should do, or having that guidance. No matter how big or how small the question, having someone to truly guide you, women that are genuine. Maya Seek resources, role models and invite mentors. Take advantage of opportunities. Be intentional about learning and growing. Be responsible for your own growth.
130 Create a Ã”success circle' or Ã”Board of Directors of You.' Be open to engaging with a wide variety of people . Understand and nurture your powerÃ‰ you Ã”have agency.' Recognize you can make choices by default or design. Navigate the expectations the world (family, media) will put on you/use your agency. Love, love, love yourself! You are loveable. I would encoura ge them not to feel like they have to succeed and to try to grow and so forth by themselves and to seek resources, look for role models, take advantage of opportunities, to be intentional about learning and growing. Yeah and to have, I call it two differen t things a Ã”success circle' or a Ã”board of directors of you . ' For you to succeed, I would encourage you to recognize there's a lot of different resources, and also that you deserve a variety of resources. Don't feel like you've gotta be that strong black woman. Right? If you think in messages like you've gotta be all for everybody and you've gotta be unselfish and you know all the ways we tend to socialize black girls and then black women is not denying some of that, however not accepting it fully. Recogni zing that you can become Ã”your best you' by accepting others invitations to help you as well as by looking for others who might. Rely on a variety of people you trust that you know really care about you to help guide you. But ultimately, you get to make t hose[career] decisions. Especially as you grow and learn. I'll also say love, love, love yourself. Love yourself. You are loveable. Shawn Be ready for the good, the bad and the ugly. Need a good mentor, support systemÃ‰God.
131 Don't assume people of color who look like you will be supportive. Recognize you're under a microscope. You will work doubly hard to be considered equal. Get your priorities in order. [as a woman who may also want to raise a family] Especially being someone of color, the cons, and the ugly, and the bad will outweigh the pros. It's just reality. And that's where having a good mentor, a good support system, a good you know relationship with God will help. That's really the only way you' re going to be able to sustain, because you'll face opposition all the time. And one other thing, and this is just for me, you can't always assume that people who look like you are going to support you. Honestly I haven't really received support from my people either. And so, I think it's natural to think that they would be proud and support, but they're skeptical too and its sad. And then again, be ready for the good, bad, and the ugly. You will be challenged, and be ready to work harder than you ever have in your life. I think this is in all aspects, regardless of the industry. I think we're under such a microscope as people of color, that you always have to work doubly hard to be considered equal. Samantha Practice keeping naysayers out of your head ; keep them from defining you. Develop an area of competency; learning something new builds confidence. Keep up in your field. Stay knowledgeable so you're prepared and ready when opportunity strikes. Understand the organizational culture and develop yo ur own personal style; be attracting
132 not distracting. Be noticeableÃ‰and be you! Find your thingÃ‰the thing that inspires you. Go back to the source of your inspiration when you need to refuel and lift your spirits. Exercise great self care. Find restful places. Take time for you. Make time and do the things that will fill you back up. Know when you need help. Ask for help and advice. Build support circlesÃ‰surround yourself with wise, intellectually stimulating people, especially other women. Bui ld relationships with Ã”thought leaders' even in a different field. What's your thing? What is the thing that inspires you? What inspires you to do what you're doing? Find your thing because life doesn't just go in a straight line. There are times when I'v e literally gone and gotten construction paper and written positive thoughts about myself on construction paper taped it up all over my apartment, because the person I was working for was so negatively disposed to who I was that I was in a very difficult p lace. Don't waste time with silly people. Be with women who are as powerful as you are, despite any humility you may bear. Because their brilliance, and their sharing, and their funniness and all that, make you feel more normal and less burdened. Just the ir way of thinking, their thought process, their jokes, their crazy stories about their children are all part of filling up your reservoir that is essential to go forward. Della Don't let anyone tell you, you can't Ã‰ including yourself, especially yourself . When doors open, walk through them.
133 Know you're a work in progress. When doors open, walk through them with the energy, the interest, the curiosity and the belief you can what learn what you need to learn. Commit to lifelong learning. Be in the present, enjoy the ride. If you focus too much on the next hill, you will miss the lessons and opportunities to grow and be enriched with what is happening in this moment. Ask for help. It's ok to be vulnerable. It's courageous to say I don't know, or I' m worried, or this happened to me. Believe with hard work, there are payoffs. Dream, dream, dreamÃ‰Dream big dreams. There's help all around you. You gotta ask for help. You don't do yourself primarily , and you don't do the world or your teams or your work environment any favors by not highlighting the fact that you don't know how to do something or that you're struggling. It's risky and it has always paid off for me. Be vulnerable. It's a courageous act to say I don't know, or I'm worried, or this happened to me. You know, it's not to get out there and make the team be your camp counselors or psychologists. But the minute you allow people to see in you, your fears, your worries, things that excite you, i t gives permission for them to do the same. And it's so cool when you do that. Joy Do your best work every day. Be willing to serve and meet a need. Say yes to opportunity. Be your authentic self and be politically savvy.
134 Step out and be courageous. Be brave. Defy the stereotypes. Don't let other people define you. Be politically savvy. Defy the stereotypes. Don't let other people define you. And as I was saying before, Ã”say yes.' Sometimes we are afraid to step out. But if you're going to be succe ssful, you have to step out. You have to be brave. You have to be courageous and see where it leads. If you say no, you'll never find out. There are stereotypes about black women. We're loud. We're this. We're that. No. We are who we are. Be your authenti c self, but know what setting you are in. I know when to when to wear a total black suit, and dye my hair brown, or I know when to wear a bright corral St. John suit. I have to decide what setting I think I'm going to be in and what impression do I need to make given my situation and my audience and what I'm trying to accomplish. Be savvy about that.
135 APPENDIX F Recommendations to Organizational Leaders Portia Be open to building a diverse team that utilizes outside experience and reflects the community in which you serve. Treat people like you want to be treated. Respect and encourage individual expression. Value different styles of contribution. Be supportive, and offer unwavering support; provide feedback and coaching to address performanc e challenges or need for improvement. Recognize the value of building a diverse team; in addition to the work benefit, diverse leadership teams provide models to help encourage and inspire young children of color. They first have to want to build a diver se team. If they truly take a look at their teams and say what am I missing? And am I open to really having a diverse team? Also understanding your audience; do you want your team to be reflective of the community in which you serve? And if you are, you ca n make more headway with closing the achievement gaps. We want to be able to convey to young, African American men, women, girls that they can do the work that we're doing. As a transportation director, I want those kids to be able to say, wow, she was ab le to do that job. I want to do that job. Creating a diverse team not only focuses on the work, but it also creates role models. I think the leaders within the district have to be open to think more
136 broadly around how to create equity and inclusion within their teams ! " Maya Invite organizational leaders to learn about Black women's history and contributions. Encourage them to learn about Black feminists and epistemology; to educate themselves about the rich culture, contributions and challenges for Black women. Strive to cultivate Black women for leadership, and see it as highly reciprocal; Black women can help them lead more inclusively. Expand their view to see the potential in all Black women; see almost any African American woman who is in their organization as someone to cultivate for leadership. To not be limited by iconic images, and famous Black women. Recognize and remove unfair expectations to have Black women sit on committees and mentor (do the social work, in addition to their job funct ion); and if expected to serve in these ways, then count this participation equally as valuable to their other job duties. Give Black women access to a wide variety of opportunities; be mindful not to unconsciously steer them in the direction where "they think" they should go. Specifically, identify opportunities to lead. Provide access to leadership programs and opportunities to develop as leaders. Platinum rule: Do unto others as they would have you do unto them. That necessitates asking the woman wit h genuine curiosity: "what would it take for me to help you get from where you are now to your aspirations?"
137 Express genuine appreciation; affirm who they are and what they contribute. Entrust them with important projects. Resource them so they can succee d. Be mindful of lowered expectations. Raise the bar and give them the feedback to grow and develop. I think sometimes we can be complicit in that notion of certain black women, and not to say we shouldn't celebrate our icons, but I'd love for persons who are talking about cultivating black women as leaders to kind of see almost any African American woman whose part of wherever they are as having that potential and not unintentionally or unconsciously looking for "well you remind me of so and so," this famous black woman, or this woman I knew somewhere else. And leaders should have the savvy that others in the organization may have these unfair expectations (asking Black women to serve on every committee) and they should enact their leadership to block that, or to you know, otherwise challenge it. Sometimes especially at lower levels, the Black woman hers elf may not even understand the dynamics. For me it goes back to my chair, my white male chair saying "they're going to want you to be on every damn committee a nd you can tell them I said no. Shawn See Black women for who they are; understand their cultur e, exposures and challenges. See their color, and see them as different from W hites, Asians, Hispanics. Give Black women the support they need to be included and to thrive (vs. an expectation of easy assimilation). Don't make assumptions: ask Black women directly for feedback and to give input to the kind of experience and support they need.
138 Create a sustainable, inclusive, and supportive environment. There shouldn't be times where Black women in the organization feel OK sometimes, other times they're r eminded that they're different. It's got to be sustainable . Make sure the voices of Black women are heard consistently. Pay attention and notice the environment; notice when Black people step down from leadership or leave. Organizational leaders need to f irst of all understand black people. What does that mean? We're different than whites. Whites are different than Asians. Asians are different than Hispanics, and so, I want you to see my color, and not assume you can treat me the same as a white male or a white female. Just understanding black people, and the black culture, and what I may have been exposed to or may not have. See me for who I am and be ready to support, or give me whatever it is I need to feel included. I don't know that all organizations are ready for that, because so many people want Black women and other people of color to assimilate to either their organization or to other people that work there. Often, leaders are not prepared to change themselves, or give the support that people of c olor need to feel included and to thrive. Samantha Know who you are willing to help, mentor and develop. Know their starting point, their strengths and their limitations. Be all in if you decide to help someone. Groom. Teach. Provide learning opportunities. Encourage self development and self care. Tell them (honestly and truthfully) how wonderful they are and capable. Help them to navigate the learning curve, and encourage them to keep going.
139 Read and do some preparation to learn about the h istory and the cultures of the diverse members in your group. Provide a clear assessment of skills; offer guidance and clear feedback to help identify and structure assignments to build success. Tell the hard truth. If someone is in over their head, help them to get reassigned. I say know them. Keep up with them. See to their growth and development. And encourage them and listen. Della Leave preconceived notions at the door. Specifically, your sense of what Black women can or can't do and your pr econceived notions of what leadership looks like. Be open to having your views shaped of what authentic, strong leadership isÃ‰because there isn't one way. Own your biases and develop the tools needed to address them. Understand that no matter how much you may think you treat everybody the same, we are not the same; create the space for Black women to get the same explicit and implicit support that is given to white men. Black women may carry some interesting things in their privileged backpack, but power is not one of them; therefore, you have a big responsibility to mentor and sponsor them. Be intentional and purposeful to recognize the unique gifts and contributions each person brings to the team, and find ways to use them. Create the space for Black women to get the same explicit, and implicit support that you give to white men. Because it is different how
140 you treat both of us. There's no value behind that statement. It just is. It's the reality of bias and discrimination in our history. If you don't recognize your own biases and provide the support needed, not only won't the organization thrive, you will run the person of color off. They won't stay. Or they'll stay and experience frustration that the dominant group never doe s. Because the dominant group has an invisible backpack of privileges. Just recognize my privileged backpack is a lot tinier. I got good skin, so there we go. Okay that's one. We don't tend to get the same level of urinary incontinence as our white female peers. We've got some interesting things in our privileged backpack but one of them is not power. Even though my backpack is much tinier than your backpack, it's full of some things and some gifts, and some unique contributions that you need on this team. Take time to unpack those things. Be intentional and purposeful to figure out who's got what gifts and use them. Joy Open doors and provide opportunities for Black women to grow, to learn. Mentor Black women. Mentors show you the ropes; they provide an "apprenticeship" and show you how the work gets done. Mentors make introductions to people of influence, offer ongoing support and remain advisors, sometimes "friends" for life. Open the doors of opportunity. Open doors, because people have to have a chan ce to grow, to learn. Mentor Black women. And when I say mentor, I was allowed to see how things worked day to day, and how things got done. So that mentoring, is an apprenticeship. After nine years, when I finally left the nest, when I flew, I could fly. I knew how to fly. I knew how to thrive.