Underrepresentation of African American Women in Senior Leadership: A Qualitative Study

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The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate the phenomenon of underrepresentation of African American women in senior leadership. The researcher incorporated three theories: intersectionality, fair representation, and cognitive diversity to research a possible symbiotic relationship toward African American women’s low representation. The use of these theories assisted the researcher in being able to take a comprehensive look into the lived experiences in various forms to address perceived barriers confronted by African American women when attempting to obtain senior leadership positions. Furthermore, these theories afforded the researcher opportunities to explore how race and gender factored into the trajectory of African American women’s career paths. The study focused on the experiences of 11 African American women ages 35-59 who were interviewed using Zoom videoconferencing and telephone conferences. The researcher utilized 16 open-ended questions that were recorded with permission and transcribed into NVivo10 to capture coded themes to aggregate data for possible congruency with the selected theories. The researcher discovered six significant themes: professional growth, validation, sponsorship/mentorship, credibility, authenticity, and networking. Additionally, the researcher discovered two unexpected themes,’ tokenism’ or a ‘oneness’ aspect., which are described in the paper. The study displayed a theoretical construct that allowed participants to discuss personal accounts, including attributes that contributed to biases, stereotypes, and assumptions within organizational attitudes and behaviors impacting African American women’s advancement to senior leadership positions. The researcher recommends further investigation into the underrepresentation of African American women in senior leadership in professional settings.
A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Business Administration
African American Studies, Business Administration, Leadership, Women's Studies