African-American Female Leadership Styles

Posted on October 15, 2008. Filed under: Academic Publishings |

Parker, Patricia S. and dt Ogilvie. Gender, Culture, and Leadership: Toward A Culturally Distinct Model of African-American Women Executives Leadership Strategies. Leadership Quarterly (1996) 7(2): 181-197.

The author sets the tone for the chapter by stating that power and authority are traditionally not associated with Black women. This is due to, what was summarized in previous literature reviews and numerous readings, the double-edged sword. Many women experience difficulties in leadership roles because they are both women and mothers, however, Black women bare a larger burden. Black women also experience racial and gender discrimination. Black women thus, experience a different upbringing, have different perspectives on leadership, and are raised with different ideals and values.

Currently, there are two types of leadership models based on gender differences, which influence leadership decision making and representation. Unfortunately, due to the lack of research, most studies are “formulated from a middle-class Anglo-American perspective and reflect the socialized traits, behaviors, styles, and culture of members of that group (181).” Thus, research data is skewed according to race, class, gender, and behavioral styles. The authors then argue that Black women have adapted to living bi-culturally, crossing gender and racial boundaries, which demonstrate androgynous activities that can be translated to successful leadership traits.

The authors stress five points of differences; racial discrimination, gender discrimination, racial/gender interactive efforts, complex organizational interactions, and devalued leadership abilities. These “leadership strategies reflect and are shaped by heir socialization as Black women, and by their unique social location within dominant culture organization (182).” Black women engage in leadership activities that are inherent in their social and professional careers.

They also set out to determine if gender similarities and differences operate across racial and cultural groups. They also evaluated any parallel relationships between racism and sexism and whether or not they will generate similar affects. These studies proved that they are not parallel, but rather, they intersect and interact with one another, which directly affect black women’s leadership approaches, behaviors, and styles.

Socialized leadership traits, behaviors, and styles vary among ethnic, racial, and cultural groups. Successful leadership traits are “task-orientation, operationalized as ‘initiating structure,’ and interpersonal-orientation, operationalized as ‘consideration (184).” Much of these studies were set out to determine the relationship between them and their influences on Black women and their leadership abilities. Research has traditionally focused on two components of gender leadership, the first regarding their democratic decision-making orientation, and communication strategies, evaluating their ability to inspire coworkers, supervisors, and subordinates.

One major gender leadership difference is that female leadership is relational and environmental, as opposed to male leadership which exhibits dictatorial and autocratic strategies. Interestingly, Black women exhibit both gender leadership qualities, resulting in ‘the cement wall,’ in which they are Black, female, and exhibit direct male qualities. Because Black women may exhibit the ideal leadership qualities, the authors pursue the question of whether or not leadership traits and behaviors vary across cultures and races.

Prominent influences for Black women are rooted in family structure. “African-American family structures tend to have flexible gender roles (186).” Young Black girls are taught to be independent, self-confident, and proud of their culture and background. Much of the familial influences stem from post-slavery efforts among Black families to encourage their youth to fight against oppression and pro-slavery sentiment, resulting in confidence, strong cultural appreciation, and independence.

Research has proven that bi-cultural Black families have stronger self-images and emotional stability than mono-cultural families. Bi-cultural members exhibit these qualities because their identity is not rooted in one culture. Black women are forced to live in two separate worlds, one ruled by the dominant group and one among themselves. Because of their racial and cultural adaptability, they demonstrate strong traditional leadership qualities. “African-American women tend to have traits and behaviors corresponding to both the Anglo male and female leadership models indicates they are likely to be androgynous in their leadership approach (187).” Essentially, Black women are raised to demonstrate male and female traits – to be both nurturing and interpersonal, and confident and self-confident.

Black women also endure racial and gender discrimination, in addition to dealing complex organizational interactions, and devalued leadership abilities. Black women believe that racism as opposed to sexism is still the dominant factor in preventing career advancement opportunities. In addition to racial discrimination, they suffer from gender discrimination, prohibiting them from gaining access into networks and organizations. In order to overcome these obstacles, Black women have formulated a strategic network among Black superiors, crossing all racial boundaries, whereas other racial groups work more closely with members of their own racial categories.


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