Opinion-Lead from Within: Excerpt from LeadHERship on Your Own Terms

By: Dr. Shinika McKiever

“I didn’t learn to be quiet when I had an opinion. The reason they knew who I was is because I told them.” Ursula Burns

I think it’s time to radically redefine how we look at leadership, especially for Women of Color. Traditional definitions of leadership exclude the experiences of women and people of color. Conventional narratives related to leadership and leader identity are historically not rooted in the perspectives and needs of BIPOC. Institutionalized racism is nothing new. These systems were designed to operate exactly how they function. Women and people of color experience a leadership labyrinth filled with obstacles, challenges, and resistance as they attempt to ascend into leadership positions. Women leaders quickly hit a glass ceiling, unlike their male counterparts. Additionally, Women of color meet with concrete ceilings, the astounding difference being that glass can be broken or shattered, while concrete is unbreakable and must be penetrated. The path to leadership for Women of color is unique and complex, stemming from the intersectionality of their identity in being both a minority and female.  

I’ll never forget the experience of conducting interviews while completing my dissertation research on how women entrepreneurs develop as adaptive leaders. I was speaking with a Black female entrepreneur who owned her own CPA firm, and I asked her if she considered herself a leader. She boldly stated no, I do not. I was shocked. How could a woman who was so intelligent and successful not consider herself a leader, even though she exhibited all the traits of a dynamic leader and business owner? For her, the ‘leader identity’ was reserved for anyone else, not Black women.  

“Do not desire to fit in. Desire to oblige yourselves to lead.”

~Gwendolyn Brooks

What was revealed was that traditional definitions of leadership do not consider the lived experiences of Black women and other marginalized groups. Statistically, Black women are amongst the most educated demographic in the United States but are still forced to contend with the duality of being black and female. Although they may demonstrate the attributes of a successful leader and have the skill set, they often do not consider themselves leaders. The double jeopardy or interaction of race and gender creates a disconnect between traditional leadership and leader identity perceptions.

Understanding the leader identity and leadership needs of Women of color requires examining the principles of leadership from a lens of cultural inclusion that directly accounts for our perceptions and lived experiences. Leadership looks different for us because our leadership skills come through our life journey and in our roles as mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, caregivers, entrepreneurs, and professionals. We develop leadership capabilities as we learn to navigate a world that constantly tells us that we are not enough; we must continuously prove that we are. Leadership comes naturally to us as we lead households, set examples, and show up as our authentic selves each day. 

Leadership is within us and in the traits of who we are. It is about building community, making sacrifices, and doing what no one else wants to do. We demonstrate authority through our abilities and intuition. We know we must be twice as good to reap half the reward. Women of color are the epitome of strength and set a daily example of authentic leadership. We have proven to be the backbone of America, and we have always led on our terms.

The ways in which we lead don’t always need to be called out. It is present in how we show up for people; you see it in how we plant seeds, support, cultivate, and nurture them. We have a history of figuring it out and getting it done. Resilience, perseverance, inspiration, adaptability, and creativity are at the soul of our existence. The beauty of leadership for Women of color is that it comes naturally to us. You have everything you need to show up as the leader you want to be on your own terms.  

“Be the kind of leader you always wish you had.” 

~Dr. Shinika

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply