An exploration of black women's leadership development
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The purpose of this study was to explore Black women’s leadership development experiences as they pursue a career in elective office in Georgia. In so doing, the following questions guided this study: 1) How do Black women develop their political leadership skills?, 2) What are the paths Black women take in their political careers?, and 3) How has the intersection of race and gender affected Black women’s journey to elective office and existence as political leaders? A purposive sampling technique was employed to select nine Black female elected officials in the state of Georgia. These women, who ranged in age from 50 to 80, currently serve or have served in elective office at the local, state, and federal levels. The primary data sources for this qualitative study were in-depth interviews with semi-structured questions, documents, and researcher notes. The methodology employed was narrative analysis, which revealed six major themes concerning Black women’s leadership development experiences in the political arena. The women’s understanding and awareness of politics was shaped by their Southern heritage and coming of age in the Jim Crow era. Second, the participants developed their political leadership skills primarily through informal learning (i.e., trial and error, listening and observing others). Third, mentors and role models were critical factors in their leadership development. Fourth, the participants’ paths to elective office were neither planned nor linear, and fifth, most participants identified their faith/spiritually as guiding their decisions to run for office. Lastly, the theme of negotiating through the prism of positionality best characterizes the race and gender challenges the participants faced as Black women political leaders in Georgia. Two conclusions were drawn from the study findings. The women in this study shared common elements of their political leadership. For example, they shared a philosophy of uplifting the Black community, collectiveness, and communality, in addition to the belief in a higher being, which differs from traditional leadership models. Second, the participants developed a political consciousness due to their experiences with resistance and oppression from birth to adulthood as Black females. This experience uniquely prepared them for applying a political analysis as the basis of their worldview.