Date of Award

Fall 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership

Committee Director

Dana Burnett

Committee Member

Jennifer Del Corso

Committee Member

Alan Schwitzer

Committee Member

Mitchell Williams


African American women, a group that endures the intersectionality of being both a woman and an African American, have many obstacles in their path as they advance in their career. Despite the strides that have been made in America to improve things for women and people of color, the interwoven societal standards of beauty do not include African American women. This standard of beauty affects women in that no matter how intelligent they are, looks play an important part in their professional life. For African American women, hair is a large part of who they are and how others perceive them. The purpose of this study was to examine the lived career and identity development experiences of African American women in as they ascended the career ladder to reach top-level positions within higher education to examine what role hairstyle choice has played in their career progression. The research found that race played a role in the career development of African American women in higher education leadership. Though the role it played depended on the respondent. When it comes to the role that hairstyle choice plays in the upward advancement of African American women, it would seem it is not a very significant role. Though the women had plenty to say about their hair often being a topic of discussion in the work place and having some worries about how they present both their hair and overall outward look in an interview, most of the women stated that hair has not been a factor in their upward advancement. This study sought to learn how racial identity affects the career advancement of African American women in higher education and it succeeded in learning that the affect will differ depending on who you ask. Some of the participants to the study were very grounded in who they are as Black women and felt that their upbringing was influential in that. Lastly, this study sought to examine the intersectionality of career development, racial identity, and hairstyle choice on the career development of African American women in higher education leadership. This study found that the three are intertwined and that hairstyle choice and racial identity cannot be separated. Many of the women expressed that their hair was an extension of them, which aligns with previously mentioned literature. Overall their racial identity was both a hindrance and a positive influence on their upward advancement in higher education.


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