Theorizing African American Women’s Learning and Development: Leveraging Workforce Diversity through Socio-Cultural Adult Learning Theories

Theorizing African American Women’s Learning and Development: Leveraging Workforce Diversity through Socio-Cultural Adult Learning Theories

Marilyn Y. Byrd (University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, USA) and Dominique T. Chlup (Texas A & M University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1812-1.ch003
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This study is a qualitative, interpretative examination of nine African American women’s encounters with race, gender, and social class (intersectionality) in predominantly white organizations and the learning experiences that emerged from these encounters. Rather than continuing to operate from a Eurocentric view of learning, this study contributes to the scholarly discussion the learning perspectives of African American Women (AAW). Black feminist theory is used as a socio-cultural framework to explain how AAW learn from issues emerging from intersectionality. A narrative approach to inquiry was the research strategy employed. Three major learning orientations emerged from the women’s narratives: learning from influential sources, learning through divine guidance, and learning through affirmation of self. The authors contend that expanding the conversation of adult learning theories to include socio-cultural theories derived from black women’s scholarship may be necessary to move the field of adult education toward more inclusive ways of theorizing adult learning. Implications for the field of adult education and the emerging workforce diversity paradigm are provided.
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The intersection of race, gender, and social class are interlocking systems forming mutually constructing forms of social dominance (Collins, 1998). In North American society, constructions of race, gender, and social class reproduce hierarchical systems that privilege some while denying others. The workplace, like other areas of society, can play an important role in reproducing and maintaining the status quo. Together, perspectives and constructions of race, gender, and social class may work to the disadvantage of African American Women (AAW) in predominantly White organizations. For the purpose of this study, a predominantly White organization refers to an environment where an AAW enters and assumes a position of leadership.

In this study, we pursue the notion that adult learning theories should consider socio-cultural theoretical perspectives that address intersectionality in the learning and development process of AAW. Socio-cultural refers to theoretical perspectives that consider race, gender, and social class in analyzing power dynamics within bureaucratic and other systems where power can be used to oppress (Merriam & Caffarella, 1999). While scholars and educators in the field of adult education have addressed women’s learning and development in terms of gender (Barr, 1999; Bierema, 2001, 1999; Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986, 1998; Hayes & Flannery, 2000; McLaren, 1985; Thompson, 1983, 1995) there is a lack of studies which have addressed the intersection of race, gender, and social class and AAW’s learning and development in predominantly White organizations. For this reason, there is a lack of research in the field that has used socio-cultural theoretical frameworks, such as black feminist theory, to examine the nexus between socio-cultural theories and traditional learning theories. The narratives of the AAW in this study shifts the discussion of learning and development from independent, separate categories of disadvantage to one that focuses on the constructions of race, gender, and social class as an interactive, dynamic, and interlocking system of oppression.

For the purposes of this study, an African American woman is one who self-identifies as black and whose national origin of birth is the United States of America. Race is a socially constructed category that denotes differences among people and is politically sustained to assign people to categories (Banton, 2000). Gender is not only a social construct, it is a “set of assumptions and beliefs on both individual and societal levels that affect the thoughts, feelings, behaviors, resources, and treatment of women and men” (Bell & Nkomo, 2001, p. 16). Social class distinguishes the powerful from the powerless and can be one way of maintaining exclusion and sustaining oppression. In predominantly white settings, social class generally determines one’s access to formal and informal social networks that grants social privilege and career success (Bell & Nkomo, 2001). Race, gender, and social class converge to form an interdependent, interactive, dynamic, and interlocking system referred to as intersectionality. While varying perspectives of intersectionality are emerging (Alcoff, 2006; Zack, 2005), the term “intersectionality” initially referred to the experiences of Black women whose experiences and struggles were not adequately captured in the feminist and anti-racist discourse. According to Crenshaw (1989), intersectionality denotes the various ways in which race, gender, and social class interact to shape the multiple dimensions in which AAW experience the world.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Socio-Cultural: Theoretical perspectives that explain how privilege can be used as a source of power for some and social identities can be used to oppress others.

Intersectionality: Term coined by Crenshaw (1989) that describes experiences and struggles of Black women not adequately captured in the feminist and anti-racist discourse.

Social Justice Paradigm: Research and theory-building that promotes socially-just work environments as places that are inclusive and uphold a culture of dignity and respect.

Emancipatory Learning: deconstructing power structures and developing ways of knowing to resist and challenge these structures.

Social Learning: Foundational to Bandura’s (1986) theory that describes how individuals learn by interacting with and observing others.

Self-Actualization: Based on Maslow’s (1970) theory that describes an individual’s natural tendency to be motivated towards goals in their work experiences.

Transformative Learning: Learning that empowers and motivates individuals to act as change agents towards a more just society.

Outsider-Within: Term coined by Collins (1986) that describes Black women’s social identities that are situational and attached to specific histories of social injustice.

Complete Chapter List

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Chaunda L. Scott, Marilyn Y. Byrd
Chapter 1
Ikeanyibe Okechukwu Marcellus, Ezeibe Chukwuebuka Christian
Since its establishment in 1975, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has faced the task of regional integration and cooperation... Sample PDF
Regional Integration in West Africa: Exploring the Option of Leveraging Workforce Diversity in the Academia and University System
Chapter 2
Mariya Gavrilova Aguilar, Pamela Bracey, Jeff Allen
Properly managed diversity practices enable organizations to maximize human capital, create a sustainable competitive advantage, attract more... Sample PDF
Examining the Diversity Curriculum of Leading Executive MBA Programs in the United States
Chapter 3
Marilyn Y. Byrd, Dominique T. Chlup
This study is a qualitative, interpretative examination of nine African American women’s encounters with race, gender, and social class... Sample PDF
Theorizing African American Women’s Learning and Development: Leveraging Workforce Diversity through Socio-Cultural Adult Learning Theories
Chapter 4
Julie Gedro
Using a multi-disciplinary survey of educational studies, sociology, adult education, and human resources literature, this chapter explores the ways... Sample PDF
Leveraging Workforce Diversity through a Critical Examination of Intersectionalities and Divergences between Racial Minorities and Sexual Minorities
Chapter 5
Kemi Ogunyemi
The School has a fair distribution of people from different ethnic groups. It also has a mission that identifies expressly with the Christian view... Sample PDF
Workforce Diversity at the Lagos Business School, Pan-African University, Nigeria
Chapter 6
Diversity Divas
This chapter describes a Collaborative Inquiry (CI) process as experienced by six diverse female participants in a doctoral program. The focus of... Sample PDF
A Collaborative Inquiry: Raising Cross-Cultural Consciousness
Chapter 7
Norma Carr-Ruffino
The purpose of this chapter is to examine some key trends in the workplace and marketplace that require successful corporate leaders to leverage... Sample PDF
Leadership’s Role in Leveraging Workforce Diversity
Chapter 8
Doug Harris, Kasia Ganko-Rodriguez
The field of diversity and inclusion has experienced exponential growth over last 30 years. Yet, while these progressions have occurred, many of the... Sample PDF
Managing Privilege as a Key to Inclusive Leadership
Chapter 9
Pi-Chi Han
Although the need to develop global leaders with adequate intercultural competencies has become obvious (Morrison, 2000; Suutari, 2002), global... Sample PDF
Developing Global Leaders: Utilizing the Intercultural Effectiveness Competencies Model
Chapter 10
Katharina Janz, Claudia Buengeler, Robert A. Eckhoff, Astrid C. Homan, Sven C. Voelpel
With demographic change, organizations today are seeing changes in societal make-up translated to the composition of their workforce. In the future... Sample PDF
Leveraging Age Diversity in Times of Demographic Change: The Crucial Role of Leadership
Chapter 11
Güven Alpay, Pinar Büyükbalci
This chapter discusses the theoretical framework covering the relationship between top management team diversity determinants and certain... Sample PDF
Leveraging Multinational Firm Performance through the Use of Diversified Top Management Teams
Chapter 12
Aisha S. Taylor, Keith James, Adam Murry
This chapter describes the need for and development of a taxonomy of workplace diversity. It also examines the taxonomy’s implications for... Sample PDF
Leveraging Workforce Diversity using a Multidimensional Approach
Chapter 13
Rita C. McNeil
Just as adult learning strategies can be categorized into three major learning strategy preference groups (Conti & Kolody, 1998), workplace learning... Sample PDF
Leveraging the Power of Diversity in Workplace Learning Strategies
Chapter 14
Denise Philpot, Laura Pasquini
As the world becomes smaller through globalization and the definition of diversity expands to accommodate new dimensions, it becomes increasingly... Sample PDF
Training and Development: Leveraging Diversity to Gain Strategic Advantage in Corporate Settings
Chapter 15
Claretha Hughes, DeVaughn Stephens
Many diverse individuals may not have previously been considered mainstream within organizational career development strategies (Avery, 2011). The... Sample PDF
Leveraging Workforce Diversity through a Career Development Paradigm Shift
Chapter 16
David McGuire, Nicola Patterson
Diversity training is an area of growing interest within organizations. As organizations and society become more culturally diverse, there is a need... Sample PDF
Diversity Training in Organizations
Chapter 17
Shani D. Carter
This chapter reviews the relationship between a selection of United States federal laws and Human Resource Development (HRD). The chapter... Sample PDF
Demographic Changes and Equal Employment Opportunity Legislation: Implications for Leveraging Workforce Diversity in the Field of Human Resource Development
Chapter 18
Hale Öner, Esra Kaya, Olca Surgevil, Mustafa Ozbilgin
The main Diversity and Inclusion activities of CEVA aim at increasing the participation of women at higher echelons of the management cadre... Sample PDF
Global Diversity Management Programs and Strategies at CEVA Logistics
Chapter 19
Bertie M. Greer, James A. Hill
Important supply bases for buyers are those that emphasize minority-owned businesses. The increased focus on globalization, corporate social... Sample PDF
Leveraging Workforce Diversity in Practice: Building Successful Global Relationships with Minority-Owned Suppliers
Chapter 20
Aileen G. Zaballero, Hsin-Ling Tsai, Philip Acheampong
This chapter will emphasize the importance of collaborative team-based work groups among diverse settings. First, the authors will discuss the... Sample PDF
Leveraging Workforce Diversity and Team Development
Chapter 21
Ashwini Joshua-Gojer, Jeff Allen
This chapter discusses the subject of workforce diversity as it directly relates to volunteerism, using the Peace Corps as an example. The aim of... Sample PDF
Leveraging Workforce Diversity through Volunteerism
Chapter 22
Mercedes Sánchez-Apellániz, Rafael Triguero-Sánchez
Workforce diversity and the benefits resulting from its appropriate management is a topic that must be addressed from a strategic and not an... Sample PDF
Leveraging Workforce Diversity through Human Resource Management Initiatives
Chapter 23
Sherita L. Jackson
In recent years, the concept of generational diversity has gained increasing recognition in the United States. Each generation is shaped by... Sample PDF
Leveraging Intergenerational Diversity to Meet Business Goals
Chapter 24
Apoorva Ghosh
Disclosure decisions for lesbian and gay employees have been researched in organizational contexts. While the dilemmas associated, factors... Sample PDF
Leveraging Sexual Orientation Workforce Diversity through Identity Deployment
Chapter 25
Marilyn Y. Byrd
This chapter is a qualitative, narrative case study that seeks to unveil the social identity diversity of leadership from the perspective a Black... Sample PDF
Critical Race Theory: A Framework for Examining Social Identity Diversity of Black Women in Positions of Leadership
Chapter 26
Rossella Riccò
In a global society, leveraging people’s diversities is one of the major challenges faced by organizations of any size in developed countries.... Sample PDF
Utilizing a New Human Relations Framework to Leverage Workforce Diversity
Chapter 27
Aileen G. Zaballero, Yeonsoo Kim
This chapter will include a brief description of the history of diversity; advantages of being culturally competent; paradigms/perspectives of... Sample PDF
Theoretical Frameworks and Models Supporting the Practice of Leveraging Workforce Diversity
Chapter 28
Cecilia Santillan, Sujin K. Horwitz
Although Global Virtual Teams (GVTs) provide organizations with increased competitive advantages and greater flexibility due to their unique ability... Sample PDF
Using Global Virtual Teams to Leverage Workforce Diversity in Global Environments: Applications of CE Technology and ThinkLets
Chapter 29
Robyn A. Berkley, Roxanne Beard, David M. Kaplan
In this chapter, the authors present a model for understanding the context and determinants of aggression within an on-line environment, known as... Sample PDF
Leveraging Diversity in a Virtual Context: Global Diversity and Cyber-Aggression
Chapter 30
Aileen G. Zaballero, Tutaleni I. Asino, Jessica Briskin
This chapter connects technology and diversity and argues that technology can be leveraged to contribute to the diversification of a workforce. The... Sample PDF
Leveraging Workforce Diversity: Utilizing Technology
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