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Readying the Pond: The Experiences of African American Male Leaders in Predominantly White Independent Schools and Their Strategies for Navigating Nonprototypicality Open Access

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This basic qualitative study addressed one research question: How do African American male leaders in predominantly white K-12 independent schools describe their strategies for navigating social identity? The study utilized the semistructured interview format (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). The criterion-based sample (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016) included 16 participants who identified as African American men who were in their second year or more of a role that reported directly to a white head of school in a predominantly white K-12 independent school. The study was grounded in the social identity theory of leadership, which “asserts that leadership is a recursive, multi-dimensional process that centers on leaders’ capacities to represent, advance, create, and embed a shared sense of social identity for group members” (Steffens, Haslam, Reicher, Platow, et al., 2014, p. 1002). The research question aimed to understand how nonprototypicality (Hogg, 2001) affects the experience of leadership for African American men in predominantly white work environments and the strategies they use to navigate those experiences. The study also had foundations in Wingfield’s (2007) concept of gendered racism, which acknowledges that the experience of racism is different for African American men and African American women because of the intersection of race and gender. Key findings from the study included identity entrepreneurship (Steffens et al., 2013; Hogg, 2016) and assimilation (Hornsey & Hogg, 2000) as less utilized strategies for African American men leading in predominantly white K-12 independent schools. The key strategy used by the leaders was the cultivation of allies and mentors. The study also found that the leaders exhibited a sense of pride in being nonprototypical leaders as well as having feelings of anger, frustration, and isolation that align with other experiences of African American men in the workplace (Chavez & Wingfield, 2018). Participants discussed the role of direct reports, colleagues, and their own supervisors in helping them navigate nonprototypicality—mainly the need for their colleagues to invest in their own diversity education. Implications of the findings are discussed for the social identity theory of leadership and for the concepts of intersectionality (Collins, 2015) and gendered racism (Wingfield, 2007).

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