Organizational and Leadership Psychology Faculty, Alumni Team Publishes Research Exploring Black Male Leadership and Competing Social Identities

Organizational and Leadership Psychology Faculty, Alumni Team Publishes Research Exploring Black Male Leadership and Competing Social Identities

Leadership inherently relies on one’s experiences to lead peers. Research by the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shows that Black adults make up only 3 percent of executive and senior leadership roles at large companies.

A recent study by faculty in the Organizational Leadership Psychology Department shows how a lack of peer mentorship, barriers to feeling emotionally considered, and not feeling represented in workplace can lead to long term professional identity issues among Black male leaders.

Dr. Enin Rudel, a William James College alumnus and now faculty member in the Department of Organizational Leadership Psychology (OLP), himself, spent years working in environments that lacked representation.

“I remember stepping into my first position of leadership, and realizing that I had become the first Black male in that organization to ever hold a role of that nature,” Rudel recalled. “It wasn’t until I was made to feel different, that I began to notice the difference. My colleagues’ reaction to me made it obvious that they had never seen a me in those conference rooms before, and I could have benefited from some mentorship, or guidance, around how to navigate that.”

Rudel is first author on a paper recently published in Advances in Developing Human Resources (ADHR), a quarterly journal for human resources professionals.

“Your energy becomes splintered. You find yourself focusing on how you’re being perceived. Several questions begin to surface: am I articulate enough? How am I being perceived? Am I dressed appropriately?” explained Rudel. “All while trying to address the task at hand. Imagine if I could strip away all of that ridiculousness and just focus on the role itself? Rarely have I ever been able to bring my whole-self into the workplace.”

The paper, "Emotional Intelligence, Organizational Social Architecture, and Black Male Leadership," drew from Rudel's doctoral research at William James, and from interviews he conducted over the course of two years with 12 Black men in executive leadership roles. It is one of the first resources on the topic of its kind.

The men interviewed reported feeling the need to hide parts of themselves and along with pressure to conform to a setting that does not actively embrace them. The authors explain that this creates an effect known as two-ness, or experiencing competing social identities within them, and explains how Black male leaders are influenced in complex and varied ways in their social environment.

"Several themes emerged from the data indicating shared common experiences of the participants as Black male leaders in the workplace: desire for mentorship, increased psychological safety with organizational support, dealing with social and emotional distress, barriers to acculturation into workplace culture, obstructions to fulfilling the authentic self, and code switching," the authors wrote in the paper. "Each of the themes identified suggest that the challenges faced by Black male leaders are multifaceted."

Rudel’s coauthors, Dr. Brandi Derr, Dr. Miranda Ralston, Dr. Terrence Williams, and Dr. Aprille Young, are all alumni of the William James College Leadership Psychology PsyD program. Derr and Young are also current members of the OLP faculty, and Derr co-directs the Leadership PsyD program. Rudel credited his coauthors with helping to establish a framework and scope to the work, citing their diverse backgrounds as vital to the process of establishing legitimacy to the questions.

“These [authors] are thought leaders in the field,” wrote Dr. Suzanne Devlin, chair of the Organizational Leadership Psychology Department. “This is just the beginning for this great group.”

Response to the work has been immediate and positive. Businesses have started to reach out to Rudel, and he is in talks to lead trainings and workshops. He hopes this work serves as an inspiration to those just now coming into the workforce and a springboard to those looking to research further into the topic.

Rudel will continue to work with some of his co-authors on researching organizational culture for future studies. He hopes the work can offer greater opportunities to foster a more equal workplace.

The article will be published in a special print edition of the ADHR, which will be released in November. A digital version is available via the ADHR website.


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