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How Have Female African American Chief Diversity Officers (CDO) Made Meaning of the Role Political Skill Plays at Predominately White Research Institutions? Open Access

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Abstract of Dissertation The emergence of Chief Diversity Officers (CDO) across colleges and universities can be viewed twofold. First, the role can be viewed as an institution's commitment towards building greater diversity and inclusion across the student body, faculty, and administration. Secondly, the position, construed as a figurehead, can incite strong emotions and resistance yet hold no authority to address issues of bias and privilege. Either view places the CDO in the mist of conflict where they must navigate questions of identity while seeking to remain influential. The study examined how African American CDOs navigated relationships and made meaning of political skill at predominately white research institutions (PWI). This study builds on existing literature by examining semi-structured interviews of five female African American CDOs. The conceptual frame incorporates organizational politics, political understanding, mentorship, and thriving. Three findings emerged from the study: 1) continual experiences of feeling valued by significant others created cycles of success and refined the expectation of success, 2) recurrent positive outcomes working with people reinforced the perspective of success within community, and 3) consistent presentation of best work in the context of significant others tempered the limiting effects of race and gender. These findings highlight the value of maintaining dynamic relationships with significant others to enhance positioning, visibility, and power. A CDO's success will hinge on the capacity to build and maintain large bases of social and organizational capital. African American women must navigate the question of how their contributions fit within their institution's hierarchy and what level of mastery influences and enhances their ability to thrive within predominately white environments.

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