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Vol. 29 (2009)

Theorizing African American Women's Leadership Experiences: Socio-Cultural Theoretical Alternatives

  • Dr. Marilyn Byrd
June 21, 2017


Leadership is generally associated with an individual being in a position of authority, and holding a certain measure of power and influence within an organization. However, for African American women (AAW) in predominantly white organizations, race, gender, and social class may restrict the process of leadership. Rather than being mechanisms of leadership, power and influence may be means of restricting AAW's leadership authority over others.

Whites often use their privilege to circumvent, diminish, overrule, and control the actions of blacks in the workplace (Deitch et al., 2003). Even blacks in positions of leadership are subject to having their authority undermined. King and Ferguson (1996) suggest the presence of AAW as leaders in predominantly white organizations is in itself ambiguous in that these roles are beyond the customary expectations for black women. Although the number of AAW leaders in predominantly white organizations is increasing (Catalyst, 2004), the dilemma remains that socially constructed hierarchies of race, gender, and social class together may serve to disempower the process of leadership (Collins, 1999).

Furthermore, AAW's marginalized status may limit access to social connections in predominantly white organizations. Access to power as well as the freedom to exercise one's own power and authority often lies in informal social networking systems (Gostnell, 1996). Lack of access to these systems may disadvantage the AAW leader's ability to influence organizational processes and actions.