Footsteps: Wisdom and Insight Into Navigational Capital for New Black Women Diversity Officers

Footsteps: Wisdom and Insight Into Navigational Capital for New Black Women Diversity Officers

Toby S. Jenkins, Coretta Jenerette, Michelle L. Bryan, Shirley S. Carter
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-3564-9.ch012
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This chapter is a collaboration between four Black women (Toby, Coretta, Michelle, and Shirley) who currently serve as diversity officers in higher education. Each author has worked in higher education for over 20 years. The authors reflect on and critically assess this lived experience for essential strategies, perspectives, and practices that might be valuable to professionals who are new to the work. The purpose of this chapter is to curate a collection of reflective insights and wisdom derived from the field-from the authors' professional experiences as Black women diversity officers at predominantly White institutions. The chapter serves as a strategic map to help new Black women diversity officers navigate the challenging landscape of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work in higher education. Each author shares a personal story along with key lessons learned. A list of suggested professional resources is also provided.
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Conceptual Frameworks

Our critical reflection is conceptually framed through Tara Yosso’s (2005) concept of community cultural wealth and Patricia Hill-Collins’ (1993, 2002) concept of Black Feminist Thought. First, we use community cultural wealth to document the learned strategies, insights, and wisdom gained from the lived experience of Black women as valuable, assets-professional forms of wealth. We then use Black Feminist Thought as the foundation for constructing knowledge and social consciousness from these lived experiences. Our life stories are not only valuable cultural assets but also critical forms of professional knowledge.

In her work, Yosso (2005) centered the idea of community cultural wealth in “the experiences of people of color in critical historical context [that] reveals accumulated assets and resources in the histories and lives of communities of color” (p. 77). She identifies six forms of “cultural capital” possessed by communities of color that have been essential for their survival (Yosso, 2005). Because of our explicit purpose to help new Black women diversity officers successfully navigate their careers in a culturally meaningful way, we situate this chapter within the realm of navigational capital. Navigational capital represents the skills and abilities to navigate social institutions, particularly organizations not created for communities of color (Yosso, 2005).

Banks-Wallace (2000) asserted that across multiple disciplines, research, scholarship, and practice, aimed at serving Black women, must include more than simply sharing information and facts. Instead, she suggested that “providing a space for renewal or 'breathing fire and life into ourselves' is crucial to improving the health of African American women” (p. 34). For our work, we consider the word “health” to pertain to the totality of a woman's life, including physical health, mental health, the health of a woman's career, or the healthiness of her work environment. Black Feminism scholar, Patricia Hill-Collins (1989) explained:

African American women have many shared experiences and ideas that stem from living in a society that denigrates both women and people of African descent. These experiences provide a unique perspective or standpoint for examining self, community, and society. The commonality of experiences is reflected through the prominence of several characteristic themes within an African American woman's standpoint. Core themes include a legacy of struggle against racism, classism, and sexism that is inextricably linked with a parallel struggle for independence, self-reliance, and self-definition. (p. 35)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Black Feminist Thought (BFT): BFT is an interpretative framework that explores the rich ideas and perspectives of Black women intellectuals (both within and outside of the academe). The framework seeks to make known the rich intellectual tradition of Black women that is often ignored.

Assimilation: The pressure to conform as an acculturating option to overcome feelings of “otherness”, in the presence of the dominant culture.

Black Feminism: Black feminism centers the social and political identities of Black women with an explicit understanding of their experiences in relation to racism, sexism, and classism.

Crooked Room: A phenomenon that describes what Black women confront, as race and gender stereotypes and warped images of their humanity.

DEI Scorecard: The diversity or inclusive excellence tool that is scalable, fluid, and contextual to help an organization determine what it is doing well and what needs to be improved.

Authentic Leadership: The root construct or principle underlying all forms of positive leadership that leads to sustainable (long term) and veritable (ethically sound) organizational performance.

Intersectionality: Intesectionality concerns the inter-related nature of social categories such as race, class, and gender, and the ways in which they overlap to create interdependent systems of oppression and discrimination. The term was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989.

Executive Presence: Demonstrating confidence, control, and a willingness to lead that inspires others to want to follow.

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