Race, Gender, and Leadership

By Kelly, Janie | Advancing Women in Leadership, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Race, Gender, and Leadership


Kelly, Janie, Advancing Women in Leadership


Race, Gender, and Leadership by Parker, Patricia S. (2005). A Review by Janie Kelly, Marymount Manhattan College. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005. ISBN: 1-4106-1125-6, 212 pp. $24.95 (hbk).

The preface to Race, Gender, and Leadership boldly declares that "this book takes up the charge put forth by cutting edge leadership scholars to envision new forms of leadership for the 21st century" (p. ix). A key point of the book is that in criticizing traditional "masculine" forms of leadership and arguing instead for an alleged "female advantage" or "feminine leadership" style, feminist scholars have done little more than perpetuate notions of dualism. Furthermore, the model of feminine leadership portrayed in the popular media is based on the experiences of a "select few" predominately white middle-class women. As a result, "The female advantage perspective excludes the experiences of African-American women as well as other women of color and of different class statuses" (p. xv). Most important, it ignores the multicultural perspective that is essential to understanding and advancing leadership development in an age of globalization.

A major strength of the book is that Parker deftly avoids falling into the same dichotomous trap as the flag-bearers of the "female advantage." Parker's contention that the "race-neutral" attitude that pervades leadership studies allows researchers to generalize the experiences of an elite group of individuals (that is white, middle-class, privileged) is analogous to the argument against "gender-neutral" studies that led feminist researchers to pose an alternative model. However, Parker is not out to present yet another alternative model rooted in race and gender. Rather, she astutely recognizes that any either/or approach to leadership fails to capture the "the diversity among women's (or men's) experiences that shape leadership knowledge" (p. 8). While noting that the "female advantage argument provides an important critique of the patriarchal discourses that exclude women's experiences," Parker zeroes in on a significant flaw. Namely, "it fails to acknowledge that notions of feminine and masculine are social, cultural, and historical products, constructed according to racial and sexual ideologies that conscript women's and men's embodied identities" (p. 10). The identities and experiences of African-American women are conspicuously absent from leadership theory and research.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I is entitled, "The Need for Race- and Gender-Inclusive Visions of Leadership in the Postindustrial Era," and Parker presents the case admirably. Part II focuses on "African-American Women: An Untapped Source of Leadership Knowledge." From a socio-historical perspective, Parker explores the cultural stereotypes that surround the exclusion of African-American women from leadership dialogues, and at the same time, the ways that resistance to oppression generated a distinctive, and valuable, tradition of leadership. Part III, "African-American Women Executives and 21st Century Organizational Leadership" brings together the dominant themes of the book, illustrated by the narratives of 15 black female executives. The collective voices included the executives, subordinates, superiors, and the author's detailed observations.

Although Part I effectively establishes a rationale for Parker's study, it is the least compelling to read. Parker's writing becomes much more vivid when she departs from the theoretical realm and describes "real world" influences and experiences, whether the focus is the degradation of black women during slavery or the emergence of black women in the corner office in postmodern business organizations. One of the most interesting sections is Parker's account of Ella Baker as the embodiment of the leadership tradition of African-American women. Parker emphasizes that her focus is organizational leadership. How many times has the example of a grassroots leader appeared in organizational literature? …

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