Being Black, a Woman, and a Leader


Just recently, I completed a graduate social work course, called Leadership and Administration. Aside from the new knowledge I gained about leadership and administration, the nature of this course also compelled me to consider my thoughts about leadership from a position of race and gender. If in America the potential of women in leadership is confined by limitations to what women can achieve and the levels to which they can go, then what does this mean for black women? I realize how little I contemplate leadership in this way. I am reminded frequently, that being a black woman is not embraced by society as black women are continuously misrepresented or underrepresented.

In my experiences so far, being a leader has been merely a choice as leadership has gravitated to me, more than I, to it. I understand this has been the case mostly because of the of the life stage I am in, both as a student and a young professional. On the other hand, as a Black woman I know to expect that even when my education, experience, and professional-integrity suggest that I am qualified in the soon to near future, I might still be frequently overlooked, because I am a woman, but mostly because I am black. As a black woman I know the “good enough and just do your best” does not apply, and whether implicitly stated or not, I will and will also be expected to aim for perfect just to be given equal or some consideration; not just to men, but to women of other racial groups. For serendipitous reasons, I have always had the good fortune of being able to attract leadership, on a smaller scale while others are far less fortunate than me.

One day, I will probably want a position of leadership; however until then, I weigh the outcomes of accepting or declining those that come my way. Truthfully, whether I really want to lead seems miniscule to what is at stake if I decide not to lead. In a society, where particularly black women are consistently amongst inferior statistics and are akin to show up close to last, if not last on every list: including education, marriage, wealth, and leadership; an opportunity to lead would perceivably be like a golden ticket out of the ranks of not ranking.

I still wonder as a black woman in this society with so few opportunities: can we really choose not to lead when leadership beckons? As a member of perhaps the least favored and marginalized subgroup in society, if we chose not to lead can we decline without criticism? More specifically, can we decline leadership and avoid added scrutiny, stereotype, and stigma? For me, it is not so much a choice to lead, as it is willingness to. While willingness is great, I would appreciate more if the color of my skin did not afford me greater pressures than some, greater consequences than others, and fewer opportunities when they are desired and earnestly earned. I understand that the kind of solution needed to alleviate negativity and inequality towards black women in society only happens when individuals can be just, respectful, and mindful. However, society can be the first to do its part in modeling this standard of behavior in representation and acceptance of black women in social and political domains.