Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


Experiences in the Leadership Advancement of African American Women

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Patrick Pauken (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Paul Christian Willis (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Paul Johnson (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Dalton Jones (Other)

Fifth Advisor

Angela Logan (Committee Member)


The purpose of this dissertation was to examine the experiences in leadership advancement of African American women. Over 10 million African American women are in the civilian labor force (United States Department of Labor statistics, 2015). The population of African American women with degrees having significantly increased over thirty years, with 264% more Bachelor’s degrees and 353% more Master’s degrees being earned, however barriers to opportunities continue to exist (Nooks-Wallner, 2008). Although anti-discrimination laws have existed since 1964, covert discriminatory patterns continue and are often entrenched in workplace systems, which prevent advancement opportunities (Cook & Glass, 2013). Phenomenology was the qualitative research method utilized for this study.

Phenomenology is a scholarly study method that provides meaning-making, to more effectively comprehend the perspective of an individual or group of individuals. Meaning is gained through attaining data about situations or events surrounding a specific phenomenon. The intention is to determine how and why it influences others as it goes beyond the surface to gain depth. This study gathered data through various methods, such as an advance questionnaire, semi-structured interview protocol, review of participant leadership samples, and resumes/curriculum vitaes.

This study contributes to understanding the leadership advancement experiences from African American women who have ascended to director-level or higher positions, across various industries. The key themes in this study were strategic preparation, and self-determination and courage. The data collected illustrate these themes and ten associated sub-themes.

The purpose is to gain understanding from the experiences that influenced the advancement of African American women within this study into leadership positions. Interviewing African American women who have ascended into leadership offered contextual insight into their lived experiences, obtaining what they perceive helped promote their advancement into leadership positions. The themes may serve as a model for other African American women seeking advancement into leadership positions.