Date of Conferral





Health Services


Cheryl Cullen


In the United States, African American women remain underrepresented in senior leadership positions in many workforce sectors, including the federal sector. Despite this challenge, a few African American women have successfully attained senior leadership responsibilities in a public health service agency. Using intersectionality and social cognitive career theory as the theoretical frameworks, the purpose of this study was to explore the lived experiences of African American women leaders in their career advancement to senior leadership positions in a health service agency of the Department of Health and Human Services in the United States. The research questions explored the experiences and perceptions of these women leaders and ways the intersection of race and gender contributed to their leadership experiences. A qualitative research design using a transcendental phenomenological approach was the chosen method. Data were collected through semistructured interviews with eight African American women leaders at the General Schedule Grade 15 and Senior Executive Service levels. Data were analyzed using the van Kaam method modified by Moustakas. Results indicated that while African American women leaders faced challenges and barriers, strategies exist to enhance career advancement. The results from this study may support social change by elevating understanding of the experiences and perspectives whereby strategies for increasing the career advancement of aspiring African American women leaders can be identified. When organizational leaders become more culturally competent, they can implement approaches that promote diversity within the senior leadership positions, which can have an overall effect on meeting the needs of a diverse population.