Ready to Make a Difference: How My Research On Black Women Executives Changed Me
Living in a half-lit room of darkness, but now in a half-lit room of light.
Seeing the hearts and hearing the words of others, I now see a new me that always existed. I exhale . . . rejuvenated . . . and ready to make a difference. (Jordan, 2011)
My Doctoral Journey
I walked across the stage several years ago to receive my PhD in leadership and change. Prior to this celebratory experience, I did not know my life would change during and after my doctoral journey, but it did. The learning reshaped my methodology for interpreting my surroundings and enlightened me on the power and significance of grounding myself with heart, mind, and soul in the present moment. I became a closer observer of the world, questioning and reflecting on political, social, global, and economic forces impacting society. My self-esteem and self-worth increased. A curriculum designed to challenge my critical thinking skills, helped me see how my presence can make a difference and become a stronger practitioner.
Black Women Executives Overcome Marginalization Due to Gendered Racism
Pinnacle moments of learning during my research were hearing the stories of 12 Black women corporate executives representing a cross-section of industries and with titles spanning director to general counsel for Fortune 100 organizations. Each executive told stories of overcoming marginalization with conviction and enthusiasm. They highlighted strategies for resisting “Gendered (Every day) Racism”, a concept created to capture the multiple levels of marginalization that Black women experience due to the intersection of race and gender, and everyday racists practices (Essed, 1991).
Resistance strategies from their lived experiences included, but were not limited to advocating for self, confronting for self, strategizing, performing, building relationships, reflecting on the strength of their ancestors, spiritualizing, socially reconstructing their reality, coaching/educating, and strengthening self-identity (Jordan, 2011).
Although most of the women shared they seldom experienced blatant racism as senior executives, they admitted working harder and taking on assignments that other leaders avoided and were targets of gendered (everyday) racism. They also admitted to having colleagues challenging their authority and witnessed other Black women’s ideas and presence ignored.
Reflecting on their stories, I noted the following insights related to my professional career and future research initiatives:
Recognizing my assumptions. Several of the women’s stories did not validate what I expected to hear. I discovered during this research the need to have an open mind to what may emerge in future research studies or interactions in my professional career. My thoughts and biases should not take control. Operating with assumptions are blinding.
Speaking truth to power. One executive caused me to reflect on my courage to affect change in the organization and to speak truth to power, not only regarding gendered (everyday) racism, but also regarding my influence as a leader. Courageous leadership can be intimidating, especially when it creates discomfort and loss for those who are accustomed to being in control. I must be comfortable with this thought and challenge what is not fair.
Demonstrating resilient leadership. The women demonstrated strong resilience during times of corporate challenges. My encounters with gendered (everyday) racism were not as challenging as some of the storytellers, but our distinct situations produced similar outcomes—a temporary dose of damaged self-esteem. I say temporary because we bounced back quickly from a dark place. I am reminded the more resilient I am as a leader, the less damage to my self-esteem. We cannot afford to let the darkness hide our light.
I am my sister’s keeper. The women’s stories influenced me to reflect on my advocacy for other Black women and men in the organization. I believe the greatest gift you can give to others is the gift of self—to make the time to help anyone with a problem or to see the possibilities for their career. Are you your sister’s keeper?
Evolving as a leader. One executive talked about practicing effective leadership as a form of resistance. I am hopeful and driven to continue to think about integrating what I have learned and discovered during this research journey into my life as a leader and practitioner. Are you committed to legacy leadership?
The reflections and outcomes of the research are relevant not only for me, but for anyone wanting to develop a strong legacy of making a difference. We all have it in us, whether we are scholars or not. The goal is to reach new levels of self-awareness and social awareness. With a commitment to developing heightened levels of awareness, we can create a reality of fairness, dignity, and progress for all.