“Mocha Pros on the Move”: An exploration of social factors affecting the diversification of corporate boardrooms for African American (Black) women
Frederick, LaTricia T.
The Center for Workforce Excellence (CWE) is a boutique leadership development, coaching, and consulting firm that provides Fortune 500+ companies strategies to design, develop, and execute their diversity, equity, and inclusion agendas. Knowing that women of color hold a minuscule amount of C-Suite power compared to their demographic representation and respective buying power in the US economy, CWE sought insights to increase their effectiveness in influencing the diverse representation of African American (Black) women in corporate executive ranks. The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand the social factors affecting the diversification of corporate boardrooms for African American (Black) women. Through exploration of social identity theory, power, and positioning, the primary question explored was: What role does social identity play in the ascension of Black women to corporate executive ranks? Through addressing the following research questions, this primary question was answered: (a) What impact does one’s socioeconomic status, social network, and past authority have on one’s ability to reach executive ranks? (b) How do race, gender, or the combination of the two influence one’s ascension to leadership ranks? (c) What does agency or sponsorship look like when success is realized? (d) What are the barriers to powerful social networks that are required for Black women seeking executive roles and how can those barriers be broken down to achieve greater diverse representation in those roles? The study design included semi-structured, one-to-one recorded interviews of 28 corporate executives who either have served on corporate boards or who are within two levels of the C-Suite. Interviews were analyzed using the memoing technique and the Braun and Clarke thematic approach. Four key themes emerged: (a) Early Exposure and Social Networks; (b) Intersectional Discrimination; (c) Agency and Sponsorship; (d) Homogeneity in Social Networks. The study’s key findings were viewed through the study’s conceptual framework of Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory, Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory specifically centered on Power Dynamics and Harre’s Positioning theory and where these theories intersect for decion-making. The study revealed key opportunities for CWE to influence current and future leaders by (a) establishing a Consortium of Executive Development for Racial & Gender Equality on Corporate Boards; (b) adopting a 5C framework for leadership development including a focus on competence, confidence, courage, commitment, and connection; (c) developing a persona-based curriculum focused on youth and executive leaders; (d) designing and developing joint, experiential-based career experiences for executive allies and executive sponsees. This research aimed to use the study’s findings as a bridge to close the gap in Black women’s executive representation at the corporate board level and highlight key opportunities for growth and development for Black women and other minorities on their pathway to the C-Suite.