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Intersecting gender and ethnicity in leadership: a study of racial and ethnic minority females’ leadership experiences in multinational companies.

A three year doctorate project for candidates who wish to investigate black and ethnic minority women’s leadership experiences at work.

Number of places



12 January 2018


28 February 2018


36 months


Candidates are required to have:

  • An excellent undergraduate degree with Honours in a relevant business, scientific/technological or social science subject
  • A Masters degree (or equivalent) will be strongly preferred
  • Students may also have other relevant experience or skills which are relevant to this project
  • Candidates who are not native English speakers will be required to provide evidence for their English skills (such as by IELTS or similar tests that are approved by UKVI, or a degree completed in an English speaking country)
  • An ideal candidate will be able to demonstrate experience of the services marketing domain either through study or employment

Project Details


This proposed research examines racial and ethnic minority women’s ascension to leadership roles and their experiences of practicing leadership in senior positions. As cultures become more interconnected and immigration increases racial and ethnic diversity within many countries, people are working with leaders who enact many different leadership styles.  At the same time, the increasing heterogeneity of followers places certain demands on leaders to be more aware and responsive to individuals’ backgrounds and beliefs which are dissimilar to their own. Both race and ethnicity offer significant advantages to multicultural experiences, providing opportunities to gain experience of working with majority and minority cultures.  Moreover, values of integrity, inclusion, social justice and fair treatment of individuals may be particularly important for minority leaders, reflecting wider global organisational trends towards accountability, transparency and equality.     In terms of gender, the benefits of significant female representation on boards and the value-addedness of ‘feminine’ leadership approaches are now well documented (e.g. Eagly. 2007).  Despite these gains, there is still substantial underrepresentation of women from racial and ethnic minority  groups in leadership roles in global organisations.


Relevant Literature

Theories of career progression and leadership remain deeply negligent of the challenges relating to equality, inclusion, diversity and multiculturalism as they intersect with gender.  Recent work has explored  black and ethnic minority women’s career strategies in the legal profession (Tomlinson et al, 2013) and  how male and female ethnic minority leaders ascend to leadership roles in the public sector  (Wyatt and Silvester, 2015). Such accounts highlight how minority groups reproduce rather than transform opportunity structures and find it harder to access informal organisational processes to gain visibility and advance their career. In their research of ethnic minority women in UK organisations, Kamenou and Fearfull (2006) found that the minority female employees were required to manage their behaviours and appearance in order to assimilate into the organisational culture to access important networks and gain career development opportunities.   

Whilst a few studies have addressed career progression, we know little about the day-to-day experiences of leadership for racial and ethnic minority women.  As Ospina and Foldy (2009:889) note: ‘when researchers write about “women and leadership,” they implicitly refer to white women, rarely distinguishing between the experiences of white women and black women or between the different types of stereotypes they are subject to’.  Research indicates that white women’s leadership experiences can be quite different to those ascribed to racial minority women (e.g., Berdahl & Min, 2012; Ghavami & Peplau, 2012; Hall et al., 2012). Ethnic minority women in leadership roles are often viewed as a special case, overlooking the opportunity to advance and develop new theories of leadership which reflect the prevalence and impact of ethnicity and race in social contexts. Eagly and Chin (2010) refer to the overall lack of research on gender and culture in organisation studies as a ‘troubling intellectual segregation’. Addressing these oversights calls for an examination of how our theories of leadership can address what constitutes effective leadership in a changing, global and diverse society. Given this, the fulfilment of leadership roles for minority women requires more explanation.

To study  leadership practice and performativity in this context, we acknowledge the growing body of literature on ‘doing gender’ in management and organisation studies.  From a social constructionist perspective, the concept of practicing gender is concerned with managing behaviours against idealised notions of what is normatively associated with one gender or the other (Martin, 2006). Gender linked actions result from the learning process of recognising and producing masculine and feminine gender displays; thus, producing a ‘natural embodiment’ with regards to male and female roles and behaviours (West and Zimmerman, 1987). What is deemed as ‘appropriate’ ways of ‘thinking, feeling and acting’ within the socio-cultural context (Alvesson and Billing, 2009: 7) can be expressed through daily contexts which “divide and differentiate between women and men, producing and confirming gender images” (Acker, 1999: 183-4). For example, research studies highlight that acceptable leadership for women entails a careful balancing of masculinity and femininity (e.g. Kelan, 2009; Muhr, 2013). This is achieved by combining collaborative styles of leadership (such as transformational or emotionally intelligent leadership) with behaviours stereotypically associated with masculinity (confidence, assertion etc) or performing extreme forms of masculinity and femininity  (e.g. Muhr, 2013; Mavin and Grandy, 2012; Ross-Smith et al, 2007; Thory, 2013).  However, when gender intersects with race and ethnicity important questions are raised in relation to the meanings associated with difference and how differences are interpreted, shaped, maintained and evaluated. For example, what leadership enactments ensure that a minority woman  ‘has what it takes’?

This proposed project gives primacy to how leadership becomes such only when it is socially recognised. Following this, leadership accounts stand in relation to prevailing concepts and understandings of leadership, as well as the expectations of the type of person who would undertake these actions. Thus, if  gendered  minority women’s enactments of leadership do not accord with followers’  expectations, to what extent are they seen as a viable leader?  In exploring the performativity of leadership we ask: In what ways do racial and ethnic minority accounts of leadership reflect and differ from prevailing models of leadership? Following this line of enquiry, attention will be given to minority female leaders’ experiences of adopting traditional leadership styles which emphasise individualised leadership through traits, abilities, situations and relations through to more contemporary relational, co-constructed, processual and collaborative constructs of leadership (e.g. Simpson, 2016). In doing so, the research will explore how women minorities assimilate or deviate from the cultural logic of westernised, ethnocentric models of leadership and how different cultural and ethnic experiences influence their leadership practice. With this focus, the research project has scope to identify new  possibilities that diverse leaders might bring to leadership as well as the constraints they encounter.  



Empirically, the research student will undertake a longitudinal study of leadership. This ‘engaged research’ will track the leadership experiences of female racial and ethnic minority leaders. After an initial briefing, we propose using a co-constructed auto-ethnographic approach  (Kempster and Stewart, 2010; Kempster and Iszatt-White, 2013). We propose periodically (six to eight weeks) asking (c.40) participants to record an episode where they exercised and/or experienced leadership. After each cycle we will provide academic input on their approach capturing from them how these ideas might change their accounts. At the heart of this approach lies  a methodology which recognises situated, experiential and action learning as critical to fulfilling leadership potential (James and Burgoyne, 2002). By creating a safe space for participants to think through and find their own solutions to leadership episodes, the research student will offer process- and content- oriented resources to facilitate reflection and the challenging of assumptions. A key objective is to generate a deeper meaning and understanding of participants’ leadership experience and ‘highlight the experience of history through a narrative’ (Kempster and Stewart, 2010: 209; Kempster and Iszatt-White, 2013).  Our aim is to build awareness and strengthen participant’s repertoire while celebrating the differences that make their leadership effective within their contexts. As such, this fieldwork perspective will express relational conditions celebrated in coaching’s therapeutic traditions and theoretical roots (Rogers,   1961).   At the same time, the epistemological approach acknowledges and reflects relational knowing and practice (Antonacopoulou, 2010).  Equally important, the methodology is  positioned as different from organisation-based coaching where governance, progress goals and senior management ‘gaze’ may be more common.   This space of ‘alterity’, it is hoped, will foster deep exploration and critical reflexivity.

Analysis of this material will be deconstructive, attempting to unearth where our participants’ accounts diverge from prevailing Western modes of thinking (Lykke,2010). The approach  will also access scholarly debates of leadership development (c.f. Day, 2001). Overall, this is an entirely new way of working and we anticipate it will be appreciated by practitioner organizations keen to understand underrepresentation and gain new leadership insights, and by academic journals such as Leadership, Leadership Quarterly, Human Relations, Gender Work and Organisation, and Management Learning.  In doing so, attention will be paid to rich contexts such as organisational culture and  institutionalised inequities that privilege some leadership perspectives over others and how individuals and collectives transform and create spaces for new forms of (non-mainstream) leadership practice.

Funding Details

This project is currently not funded, but funding may be available under the Student Excellence Award (SEA) scheme.

Further information


Acker, J. (1999). “Gender and organizations”, in Saltzman Chafetz, J. (Ed.), The Handbook on Gender Sociology, New York, Plenum.

Alvesson, M. and Billing, Y.D. (2009). Understanding gender and organisations. London: Sage.

Antonacopoulou,  E.P. (2010), Making the business school more ‘critical’: Reflexive critique based on phronesis as a foundation for impact. British Journal of Management 21(S1): S6–S25.

Beech, N. Cornelius, N. Gordon, L., Healy, G. Ogbonna, E., Sanghera, G., Umeh, C., Wallace, J., Woodman, P.  (2017). ‘Delivering Diversity: Race and Ethnicity in the management pipeline’ Chartered Management Institute July 2017   (available at 14/11/17).

Berdahl, J., & Min, J. (2012). Prescriptive stereotypes and workplace consequences for East Asians in North America. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, 18(2), 141–152.

Day D (2001) Leadership development: A review in context. Leadership Quarterly 11(4): 581–613.

Eagly, A. (2007). Female leadership advantage and disadvantage: Resolving the contradictions, Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31; 1-12.

Eagly, A. And Chin, J.L. (2010). Diversity and leadership in a changing world, American Psychologist, 65 (3): 216-224.

Ghavami, N., & Peplau, L. A. (2012). An intersectional analysis of gender and ethnic stereotypes: Testing three hypotheses. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37(1),


James K and Burgoyne J (2002) Leadership Development: Best Practice Guide for Organizations. London: CEML.

Kamenou, N. and Fearfull, A. (2006). Ethnic minority women: a lost voice in HRM, Human Resource Management Journal, 16 (2): 154- 172.

Kelan E. K. (2009), “Gender fatigue: the ideological dilemma of gender neutrality and discrimination in organisations, Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, Vol. 26, pp. 197-210.

Kempster, S. and Stewart, J. (2010). On becoming a leader: A co-produced autoethnographic of situated learning of leadership practice, Management Learning, 41(2) 205–219.

Kempster, S., Isaztt-White, M. (2013). Towards co-constructer coaching: Exploring the integration of coaching and co-constructed autoethnography in leadership development. Management Learning, 44 (2): 319-336.

Lykke, N. (2010). Feminist Studies: A guide to intersectional theory, methodology, and writing. Routledge: London.

Martin, P.Y. (2006), “Practicing gender at work: further thoughts on reflexivity”, Gender, Work and Organisation, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 254 – 276.

Mavin, S. and Grandy, G. (2012), Doing gender well and differently in management, Gender in Management: An International Journal, Vol. 27 No. 4, pp. 218-231.

Muhr, S.L. (2013). Caught in the gendered machine: on teh masculine and feminine in cyborg leadership. Gender, Work and Organisation, 18 (3): 337-57.

Ospina, S. And Foldy, E. (2009), A critical review of race and ethnicity in the leadership literature: Surfacing context, power and the collective dimensions of leadership, Leadership Quarterly, 20: 876- 896.

Rogers, C.R. On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. London: Constable.

Ross-Smith, A., Kornberger, M., Anandakumar, A. and Cheterman, C. (2007). Women executives: managing emotions at the top. In P. Lewis and R. Simpson (Eds.). Gendering emotions in organisations. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Simpson, B. (2016). Where's the agency in leadership-as-practice? In J. A. Raelin (Ed.), Leadership-as-practice: Theory and application (pp. 159-177). New York and London: Routledge.

Thory, K. (2013). A gendered analysis of emotional intelligence in the workplace: issues and concerns for human resource development, Human Resource Development Review, 12 (2): 221-244.

Tomlinson, J., Muzio, D., Sommerlad, H. Webley, L. And Duff, L. (2013). Structure, agency and career strategies of white women and black and minority ethnic individuals in the legal profession, Human Relations, 66 (2): 245-269.

West, C. and Zimmerman, D.H. (1987). Doing gender.  Gender and Society, 1(2):,125-151.

Wyatt, M. And Silvester, J. (2015). Reflections on the labyrinth: Investigating black and minority ethnic leaders’ career experiences, Human Relations, 68 (8): 1243-1269.

How to apply

At this stage, we are inviting applicants to show their interest in this unfunded project, which has potential for the right candidate to be entered into the Student Excellence Award (SEA) competition.

All applications should include:

  • a cover letter indicating the candidate's relevant skills/experience and how they can contribute to this research
  • a CV and relevant qualification transcripts
  • two references (please refer to guidance on references)

When sending the above documents please use the following file-naming convention: fullname_typeofdocument

  • Johnsmith_coverletter
  • Johnsmith_CV
  • Johnsmith_transcript1
  • Johnsmith_transcript2
  • Johnsmith_reference1
  • Johnsmith_reference2

Upload your documents here

NB Whilst this deadline is 28th February, candidates will be considered on receipt of application. The project may be allocated before the deadline (at the discretion of the supervisors), so please ensure early submission to avoid disappointment.