Posted by: rjsipe | March 31, 2015

The Higher Steeper Climb: The Increased Challenges of Balistically ecoming a Leader for African-American Women

In today’s class both Dr. Shollen’s and Sarah’s comments on the narrow scope the articles and essays we have read have discussed only a limited view of women leaders: educated, upper class, and white. This got me thinking about how are other women groups affected by all of these challenges, one group in particular that stood out to me was African American women. As a student of history who focuses on African-American Studies and the Civil Rights Movement this area is of particular interest to me. As I have looked up some things on the matter the statistics are even more shocking and alarming than the statistics for women leaders in general. In politics African American women zero of the one hundred seats in the Senate,with women holding twenty, in the US House of Representatives African American women hold seventeen seats, 3.9%, and are only 20% of the total number of women in the House. In terms of business there are twenty four female CEOs of top Fortune 500 companies, only one of these is an African American; that means that African American women hold .2% of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies, and are only 4% of the women CEOs. To me those numbers prove the even greater struggle that African American women face when trying to obtain leadership positions.

Realistically though this should not be much of a shock as African American women have always been more disadvantaged compared to white women, even when both were disenfranchised. African American women have faced even greater issues with negative stereotypes, including the idea that African Americans are lazy and less intelligent than whites, that African American women are inherently hyper-sexual, or the stereotype of the African American “mammy.” These stereotypes are even more restricting for African American women as they are confined to an even smaller box of expectations than white women, which hinders their ability to rise in the ranks of leadership. These African American women face another “double bind” and “glass ceiling” that white women do not face as they are forced to tangle with being women of color. African American women are limited in the amount they are able to rise due to issues that are entangled in their racial identities. This inability to rise was seen historically during the Second World War, where though many women entered the industrial workforce as men were off at war, African American women were relegated to work as domestic servants still. This inequity has continued today, though less in the middling ranks it is still very noticeable in politics and the upper echelons of business.

Though there is still much progress needed for women leaders in general, how can we work to include the already less enfranchised groups with this progress?


  1. The strict stereotypes of African American women truly hurts their ability to become leaders especially in politics. Women already have stereotypes about them that say they cannot regulate emotions and they are not as smart as men. African American women have those stereotypes and ones that deal with their racial identity also. We never see African American women being portrayed by the media as being leaders, but as stated previously as being hyper-sexualized, angry, or a mammy. They are seen as being too aggressive which people do not like in women leaders because it makes them too masculine or they are seen as incompetent because they are sexualized. It is going to take a lot longer for women of different races or ethnicities to be leaders because of the added stereotypes hurting their image.

  2. This is a really interesting, you are right and I did not realize the barriers and challenges in the way for African American women. The statistics are the most shocking. For women and leadership I thought that most of the statistics were bad already, but they are significantly worse for African American women. Gendered stereotypes can be detrimental to women as leaders, as we have all experienced from the women we interviewed, but for African American women the it can be debilitating. The double bind seems to be a triple bind and the glass seems to be a glass box, that these women are constantly put in and are unable to progress. There is an intimidating amount of change necessary but Nina Turner makes the point that seems to be true for all women leaders: “We need African-American women who are elected to form a pact and encourage more black women to run and take it on as a cause inside and outside the system, we want to have a seat at the table that we helped prepare.” This idea of sitting at the table and getting more women seen as leaders is one of the hardest but most important aspects of change. Once the shift begins, I think it will have the most influence on leadership, media, and within companies.

  3. I find this topic very interesting and hard to understand if you are not the victim of discrimination or social prejudice as women and African Americans still are sometimes today. In my Women and Politics class, we watched a video lecture which talked about privilege and its invisibility to those who have it. The speaker says that when a man looks in the mirror, he sees a person, but when a woman looks in the mirror she sees her gender and sees a woman. When an African American woman looks in the mirror, she not only sees gender but also race, preventing her from just seeing a person. Much of what we have discussed in our class about women can also easily apply to minority groups. It is a tragedy to keep in mind for us who are often blind to the fact that we have a privilege.

  4. I’ve definitely noticed that our studies in this class are particularly whitewashed. Most of the female subjects of our studies and readings have been privileged, white, educated, and often married. Unfortunately, these studies leave out a huge chunk of the female population. Women of other races and of lower income or education are ignored in the fight for gender equality. Their struggles are so much more extreme than the gender biases that privileged white women face, and yet they’re overlooked constantly. However, when I think of female leaders that I consider role models, the first two that come to mind are Beyonce and Michelle Obama, both African American females who have overcome the oppression put on them due to their gender combined with their race. I think that classes on women in leadership need to incorporate a more diverse group of women as subjects of study. It is helpful that we’re studying women of other cultures from other countries in class, but I think we need to pay closer attention the minority women in our own country first. I definitely think that African American women and other non-white women need to be more involved in politics to better identify as leaders, but they face obstacles that other groups do not face, including a combination of racial and gender bias and damaging stereotypes. I hope to see a more even distribution of both women and non-white men and women in high level leadership positions in the coming years.

  5. This is a subject that truly saddens me. Coming from a family that emphasized the values of equality and appreciation of other cultures I have never viewed people who looked different from me in any negative way. I have to say that being a person who believes in true equality because of my background it has almost left me at a disadvantage because it leaves me almost oblivious to problems like these. While I don’t view anybody differently to me I know a lot of other people do which causes these racist problems. These statistics you have shared are truly astonishing and I had no idea how bad this was. This brings back the quote to me that has been passed around a lot this semester that a woman’s biggest enemy is other women. I think that women as a whole do a horrible job at supporting one another as a gender. If we could start a movement that showed how underrepresented these women were in high level positions I believe that we could gain support for these women and make an impact on society. Also as women speaking out against negative stereotypes when we hear them being used can change people’s perspectives drastically. I believe that these women will not gain support until all women stand equally together.

  6. This is a difficult problem to solve! The best solution I can think of is empowering women of color through mentor programs and educational conferences. I believe mentor programs are the most productive because the one-on-one time and investment makes more of an impact on women than large conferences. However, conferences can be beneficial for women to see other women of color in leadership roles or aspiring to be in leadership roles. Many universities, such as the University of Missouri-Kansas City, hold these conferences. The mission at this university’s conference is to “provide an environment for, by and about Women of Color that promotes equity, education and professional development.” Both of these programs are important to the leadership development of women in color. However, it is clearly a “system issue” and needs to be addressed within universities and businesses. Offering scholarships to women of color is a good way to promote their higher education and hopefully continual rise in the market place. Affirmative action can also be used at universities and in the work place, but that is a controversial topic. Of course, seeing more women of color in leadership positions in the media’s positive light is also important. This way, other women of color can see themselves as being more than lazy or hyper-sexual.

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