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The Making of Black Managers:
Unspoken Issues of Identity Formation

Len Holmes

Gilbert Robinson

The Business School, University of North London (at time of presentation)

Presented at International Conference on Critical Management Studies
UMIST, July 1999


Please do not quote without permission of authors

1. Absence and silence: black managers and ethnicity in management learning

"The Macpherson Report challenges us all, not just the police service ... to tackle discrimination wherever it is found ... It places a responsibility on each of us. We must make racial equality a reality."

Jack Straw, Home Secretary

The publication of the Macpherson Report, of the Public Inquiry into the police handling of the Steven Lawrence murder case, has focussed public policy discussion on the issue of discrimination against minority ethnic groups within British society. The Inquiry was mainly concerned with institutional racism within the agencies of the criminal justice system; however, the accompanying media coverage drew attention to structural racism, not just in the criminal justice system, but more generally in our public institutions and commercial corporations. The low level of representation of minority ethnic groups in senior positions in organisations which have significant influence on our society's economic, political and cultural life is seen as a condemnation of the espoused claim to be open and inclusive society, where merit alone should be the basis of appointment to positions of power and influence exercised in the interests of all. The general consensus that 'something must be done' to remedy this situation inevitably raises serious issues for the practices of management education, training and development (METD), as a major influence on how individuals attain senior positions and how they perform in those positions. However, the issue of ethnicity is noticeably severely under-represented in debates on METD.

This paper seeks to contribute to redressing the relative silence (note 1) of the literature on METD on the issue of ethnicity. The problem of under-representation of black people in managerial positions goes further, we argue, than that of what we might call the 'peripheralities' to the content and processes of METD. Such 'peripheralities' include, for example, recruitment and selection (including promotion), both for managerial posts and for places on METD programmes. These are matters which are typically addressed under the aegis of 'equal opportunities', whether construed as 'non-discriminatory' practices or as more proactive 'anti-discriminatory' and 'positive action' programmes. Rather, we argue, the nature of METD itself must be reconsidered both to understand the persistence of under-representation and to begin to devise remedial and reconstructive policies and programmes. Such reconsideration would, in our analysis, locate issues relating to ethnicity within the mainstream of METD theory and practice. Our examination of the 'making' of black managers is thus intended as a contribution to the understanding of METD per se, as well as to the equality and inclusiveness agenda.

Before engaging in the argument, it is worth considering some of the published data on the employment of black and other minority ethnic people, produced through the Labour Force Survey. The picture that emerges is that a black person is less likely to be in employment, less likely to hold a managerial, professional or technical position, and more likely to be working in the public sector than a white person. Of all persons of working age, just over 1.8% were classified within the various Black (note 2) groups in 1996, increasing to 1.85% in 1997. The ILO unemployment rate for members of Black ethnic groups was 19%, compared with 6.4% for Whites; for both groups, the unemployment rate was higher amongst males (21% and 7.1% respectively). The 1996 LFS data show that 9% of Black people were in Management and Administrative occupational positions, compared with 16% for all groups. Interestingly, although women are generally under-represented in such positions, the comparative situation is worse for males than for females, with 11% of Black males in these positions compared with 19% (ratio of 0.58:1) for males in all ethnic groups; the comparative figures for females were 7% and 12% respectively (ratio of 0.64:1) (note3). Black people are over-represented in the public sector (37%, compared with 24% for all groups), women more so (46.4% compared to 30.1% for men, the comparative figures for all groups being 32% and 18% respectively).

This picture is not unfamiliar, and merely reinforces the clear message that the occupational order reflects the disadvantage experienced by black people more widely in society. This extends to those who have taken the path which, according to conventional rhetoric on how individuals may enhance their 'employability' and 'suitability' for management positions, that of gaining higher levels of educational qualifications. The most recent study of ethnic minority graduates (Brennan and McGeevor, 1990) indicates that they are more likely to experience unemployment, face more difficulty in obtaining suitable employment, are less satisfied in the jobs they obtain, and are less likely to obtain training and promotion, than their white counterparts. These experiences are more marked for Afro-Caribbean graduates. Significantly, that study was based on specific survey of 2700 graduates from polytechics and colleges, of whom 6% were from minority ethnic groups. Moreover, the statistics collected by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), on participation in higher education and on first-destinations of graduates, which include data on ethnicity, are not made available for analysis.

There is a clear need for more empirical studies of the position of black people in respect of access and entry to managerial positions, and their experience within such positions. However, even with better statistical material for analysis, there would still be the need for theoretical framing of such analysis in terms of the relevance of issues of ethnicity to the processes which are understood to constitute management education, training and development.

2. Constructing the management learning agenda: management practice and managerial behaviour

In seeking to develop an understanding of the key issues that arise from the situation of black managers, we will now consider management education, training and development itself. In general discussions within the METD field, the different terms 'education', 'training' and 'development' may be seen to index varying modes of interventions aimed at enabling managers to perform as required or desired. Such interventions may, inter alia,

be 'on-job' or 'off-job', be task-oriented or more concerned with 'personal development',be firm-specific or more generic, take place in-house or off-site, be of very short duration or extend over a relatively long period, lead to a qualification awarded by an institution or agency of national (or even international repute) or not,be initiated and provided (perhaps even required) by the employer or initiated by the individual manager (perhaps sponsored by the employer or maybe taken without employer knowledge or support).Which term is used, 'training', 'education', or 'development', will vary according to the mix of circumstances.

However, common to such interventions is some reference to norms of managerial behaviour, what the manager should do. This clearly so in respect of management training, with its orientation towards immediate application of whatever has (or should have) been learned. It is also the case for management education, as conceived by Lord Franks in his report which led to the establishment of the first two business schools in the UK:

"...the whole purpose of the School is technological and practical, to develop and increase competence in action..."(Franks, 1963)It is, of course, usually acknowledged that such education should be academically rigorous, but should also include the study and practice of specific techniques and skills and must be complemented with training and experience. 'Relevance' has been a major issue for providers of management education, along with concerns about 'transfer' of learning. Conventional approaches to evaluation of management education (and training and development) take post-course job performance of management students as a key point of reference for judgements of 'success' or 'effectiveness'.

A key problem for METD has thus been the determination of what managers should do, in order to devise the educational, training and developmental activities which are intended to enable managers actually to do this. Prescriptions of what managers should do are usually based on some notion of what management is, its function in the effective and efficient co-ordination of organised collective human enterprise. Such prescriptions of management practice form the basis for establishing the desired outcomes of educational and training interventions in terms of managerial behaviour or performance.

Variations on Fayol's original prescriptions appear to have been influential in both the USA and the UK, as frameworks within which particular sorts of 'knowledge', 'skills' and 'attitudes' could be located as the goals of educational and training programmes. Later studies, from the late 1960s through to the early 1980s, of managerial effectiveness attempted to identify the components of effectiveness, particularly as empirical studies of managerial behaviour had shown that apparently effective managers do not, in fact, behave in ways which the normative frameworks suggest (Stewart, 1967, 1976, 1982; Mintzberg, 1973; Kotter, 1982). 'One-right-way' approaches had, by then, been replaced by contingency or situational models; however, this shift was mainly a recognition of complexity, now providing a higher level of analysis of managerial behaviour, that of analysing the situation and selecting the contingently-appropriate action.

In the late 1980s the terminology changed from 'effectiveness' to 'competence', but the focus is still on some notion of what constitutes (competent) managerial performance. Boyatzis' (1982) seminal book 'The Competent Manager' is subtitled 'A Model for Effective Performance'. The model he presents is based on research, undertaken for the American Management Association, which explicitly used 'job performance measures', specifically supervisory rating, peer ratings, and work-output measures (op.cit. p.44). Boyatzis adopts from Klemp (1980) the definition of a 'job competency' as 'an underlying characteristic of a person which results in effective and/or superior performance in a job'. The set of such job competencies for managerial work which constitute the model is based on a research sample of over 2000 managers in 41 different organisations.

For MCI, the 'solution' lay in the adoption of the occupational standards approach, as used in the development of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) in other occupations. This approach, using the method of functional analysis, is based on the disaggregation of the managerial job as expressed in terms of its purpose, into a set of 'elements of competence' which are articulated in behavioural terms, along with performance criteria. In contrast to Boyatzis' approach, the MCI model is thoroughly 'top-down', working down from some overall definition of the purpose of managerial work. However, criticisms of this approach have often been based on questioning its validity, but without questioning the centrality of the link between management practice and managerial behaviour or performance.

Conventional METD is thus based, explicitly or implicitly, on the assumption that managerial performance can be observed, in order to compare with some set of norms which constitute the practice of management. Standing 'behind' performance lie a set of attributes, such as knowledge and understanding, skills (intellectual, interpersonal), dispositions and preferences etc, which are often referred to collectively as 'competencies'. In principle, by some methods of empirical analysis, such competencies may be ascertained, although it may be difficult to do so in practice ('translucency' as opposed to 'transparency').

3. Becoming and behaviour: the social construction of performance

However, we wish to argue, drawing upon the interpretive traditions within the social sciences, that performance is opaque and equivocal. In attempting to understand performance we must distinguish it from mere behaviour or activity, which in itself has no social meaning. Not all activity has social meaning, ie recognised by significant others and eliciting some form of response. What is objectively observable is restricted to sensory data; in terms of activity, such sensory data is limited to visible bodily movements and audible sounds (note 4). The multiplicity of bodily movements and sounds emitted by an individual present an excessive amount of sensory data to others individuals for any social interaction to be possible. Only in so far as any activity is interpreted or construed by others as socially meaningful performance, of some kind, will it have play a part in ongoing social interaction.

This activity-performance distinction echoes the traditional problematic within the philosophy of agency, ie the distinction between free actions and caused behavioural events, 'doings' versus 'happenings' (see eg Moya, 1990, for recent discussion). However, the debates within the philosophy of agency typically consider the nature of agency in relation to actions themselves; for example, Volitional Theory posits that actions must be willed or intended for them to be deemed such, rather than merely caused happenings. We are more concerned here with the social circumstances and processes in and through which what an individual 'does' on some occasion, their situated activity, is taken to be performance of a particular kind. In this respect, the social actor's intention is somewhat irrelevant, although their articulation of (claimed) intention may be significant in the interpretive process. Performance is under-determined by both activity (in the sense of bodily movements, sounds emitted, etc) and intention; it is determined in relation to the social consequences of such activity.

For example, we might observe someone whose arm raises into the air. How we understand this will depend on other information and assumptions we make. Thus, if the arm-raising takes place in a room where an auction is taking place, we might consider that the person is making a bid for an item being auctioned. But the individual may equally be intending to wave to a friend across the room, or is perhaps merely stretching the arm because it has become numb. Now, should the auctioneer take the arm-raising as a bid, and this became the final 'bid', then the individual would be asked to pay the amount due. Of course, the individual may demur, insisting that the arm-raising was not a bid; however, even in such a case there is the possibility that others would insist that the activity was indeed a bid, with the auction house perhaps seeking court judgement where the institutions of the state might be involved in deciding just what the behaviour 'really' meant (note 5). Alternatively, the individual may intend to bid, but the auctioneer may interpret the arm raising differently; perhaps it was 'not high enough' to signal a bid. In the context of possibly losing out on a desired lot or special bargain, the individual may seek ways of having their behaviour confirmed as a legitimate bid. The same bodily movement in another physical location, say on a London street, may be a wave to a friend, hailing a taxi, brushing away a flying insect, etc. Activity has to be interpreted in order for it to be performance of some kind.

The basic argument so far may be represented in figure 1.

Figure 1

The key question that now arises is 'what generates the interpretation?'; we need to analyse how activity is construed as performance. There would appear to be two analytically separate aspects of this interpretive/ construal process. First, what is taken to be a performance of some kind is related to a set of social practices; the activity-performance is viewed as an instantiation of a practice within an arena of social practices. Social practices form the ready-made classificatory basis for attributing social meaning to particular features of what is otherwise indeterminate happenings. The second aspect is that of identity; the individual person whose activity is being interpreted as performance of some kind must be seen to have an identity for whom it is proper to engage in such performance. Together, practice and identity provide the interpretive resources for 'recognising' activity as performance (see figure 2).

Figure 2

A simple example should serve to illustrate the model. Suppose we find ourselves as strangers observing two people together in a room. One person says to the other: "Your work performance is really not up to scratch. I'm giving you a month to show some major improvement, otherwise we shall have to think about letting you go." How are we to understand what is going on here? The most probable interpretation that would be applied is that the context is that of workplace and the specific situation is that of some form of disciplinary interaction, where a reprimand and warning is being issued by a manager to an employee. In order to make such an interpretation, we would have to have background awareness and understanding of these kinds of contexts and of disciplinary interactions. We would also have to understand the nature of the relationships typical of employment contexts, that is, of the different identities involved. So we would see the speaker as the managers, ie superior, the other as the employee (subordinate); discipline forms part of the practices of management in the workplace.

Now suppose we are informed that, in fact, the speaker is the subordinate and the other is their manager; how do we now interpret the situation? In this case, we would probably say that this is an example of insolence, subordination, misconduct. Thus in order to interpret some activity as a performance of some kind (eg discipline, or insolence, etc) we need to have some idea of the identity of the actor engaging in the activity as well an understanding of the practices appropriate to some social arena.

Of course, these two aspects of the interpretation of activity as performance, practice and identity, although analytically distinct, should not be seen as separate stages of that interpretation. The attribution of identity may precede the interpretation in terms of practice, and vice versa. Construed as an instantiation of practice, activity/ performance serves to affirm identity, which serves to promote interpretation of further activity as performance, and so on. The relationship between practice and identity is thus dialectical (see figure 3).

Figure 3
Figure 3

Whilst, as we examined in the previous section, much of the debate on METD tends to focus on issues of management practice, the above analysis indicates the importance of dealing also with issues of managerial identity. If METD is concerned with managerial performance, it must not only to enable individuals to engage in the practices which constitute management, but also to enable them to develop their identity as managers. Their activity must not only be capable of being construed as becoming of a manager; they must themselves become managers.

4. The making of managers: identity formation, claim and affirmation

We now proceed to examine identity, taking managerial identity as the illustration for the conceptual matters. The term 'identity' is here being used within a social theoretical mode of analysis, and should be distinguished from its use in philosophical debates on identity (see eg Glover, 1988, for discussion). We are not concerned here with questions of 'where' the person is to be located ('body', 'mind', 'soul'?), nor with how we are to conceive the continuity of the person over time. Rather we are dealing with the nature of individual persons as positioned actors within social contexts.

The concept of identity has taken a major part in recent social science theorising (note 6), particularly in recent social psychology seeking to address the nature of the social, and in sociological analysis concerned with understanding the individual actor within the structured social world. The concept of the person as a monadic entity, a sovereign self acting freely and totally rationally, is replaced by that of a 'social self', situated within social relations and a moral order, whose actions are based in explicit or implicit understandings of what should be done (morally and/or pragmatically) given their social positioning.

The concept of identity provides an analytical link between the personal and the social, action and structure. The patterned nature of the processes of social life can be as they are only in so far as there is patterning of the actions of members of the social world. Such patterned action is 'as it should be', expected and predictable, taken-for-granted because of who those members are in relation to each other. Personal identity meshes with social identity; as Jenkins (1996) puts it, there is an internal-external dialectic of identification. The term 'identification' indicates the processual nature of identity, that is continously undergoing socially production in a process which implicates both the individual person (self-identification) and social ascription.

Another way of considering this is that of claim (by the individual) and affirmation (note 7) (by significant others), or their contraries, disclaim and disaffirmation. The relation between these may be shown orthogonally, in figure 4.

figure 4
Figure 4

In this diagram, cell 1 (identity disclaimed and disaffirmed) is empty; the individual neither claims nor is seen by others to occupy the identity of particular concern. Where an individual makes a claim on an identity, eg as a manager, and this is affirmed by significant others, then the individual is seen (by self and others) as having that identity, eg they 'really are' a manager (cell 4). However, where the individual is seen by others as having a particular identity, but this is disclaimed by the individual, then we could say they have an 'imposed identity' (cell2). On the other hand, where an individual lays claim on an identity, but this is disaffirmed by others, then we might say that they have a 'failed identity' (cell 3).

However, we must also consider the issue of identity diachronically, in terms of the processes by which identity claims and affirmations (and disclaims and disaffirmations) are made and have their outcomes over time. Harré (1983) uses the term 'identity projects' to refer to the the trajectory by which an individual achieves 'uniqueness within a moral order'. He presents this in terms of a two-dimensional analytical model of psychological concepts, through which he seeks to overcome the uni-dimensional Cartesian tradition. The dimension of 'display' refers to the extent to which psychological phenomena are available to public observation (eg visible behaviours, public speech) or only hidden from public view (private thoughts and feelings). The dimension of 'realisation' refers to the location in which some phenomenon is effected, in the collective arena or in the individual. Harré argues that the conflation of the public (display) with the collective (realisation), and of the private with the individual, is the cause of much confusion in social and psychological theorising.

Using this framework, Harré presents an identity project conceptually as the trajectory through the four quadrants in the model.

figure 5
Figure 5

An individual 'appropriates' from the public-collective domain, some understanding of what it means to have a particular identity. This is followed by 'transformation', where the individual relates what hitherto were attributed to beings in the social world to themselves personally. Thus an individual may make positive and favourable comparison of other managers' actions, characteristics etc with their own self-understanding: 'I can do that' and 'I can be (am) like them'. To attempt to give effect to the idiosyncratic transformations, the individual must then engage in 'publication', seeking to show publicly that they act as someone with the relevant identity, and so should be seen as having that identity. If successful in the publication phase, the individual's final phase in the identity project is that of 'conventionalisation', whereby the person is confirmed in the identity, simultaneously further constructing the individual's biography and reproducing the structure of the social order. However, publication involves 'hazard' (Goffman, 1963), and the claim through display on the identity at issue may be rejected.

Management education, training and development may thus be conceived as an identity project (Holmes, 1995); where the identity project succeeds, the individual aspires to (claims) the identity which is then affirmed by significant others. The individual's curriculum vitae is enhanced and the formal description of the organisational structure includes the name of the new manager. Of course, this process should not be seen as a once-for-all event, but rather is likely to involve iteration. Identity is not fixed but subject to possible contestation. Engagement in the socially legitimated practices that constitute 'management' is necessary for maintenance of managerial identity. Moreover, it may be necessary to engage in overt display, calling attention to the identity claim. The audiences for such display may be not only senior managers but also subordinates, particularly in the case of maintaining discipline in the early period of the occupation of a managerial post (note 8) . Performance accounts and performance appraisal acts as a 'confessional' practices which endorse (or contest) identity. Management education, training and development as a process of making of (and becoming) managers extends beyond the activities through which specific knowledge and skills are traditionally considered to be taught and learned (cf Fox and McLeahy, 1991).

5. Living the legacy of mastery: visible difference and tacit barriers

This model of 'identity project' deals analytically with the formation of a singular identity; yet clearly any particular individual person has a number of identities. That is to say, the various different social contexts within and between which an individual moves in their daily life position them differently in relation to others in those contexts. Such different contexts afford multiple modes for elaboration of claims on identity; Gergen (1991) expresses this in terms of 'saturation'. But different contexts also provide for various modes for identity ascriptions, which constitute identity affirmation or disaffirmation in relation to identity claim or disclaim. Thus the arenas for contestation over identity claim/ disclaim and affirmation/ disaffirmation are themselves multiple.

We should also recognise that such different arenas for identity projects are not hermetically sealed from each other. What constitutes a social context of a particular kind is not determined by certain objective features of the situation, but rather is primarily socially constructed (note 9). Thus, for example, a workplace may be the scene of particular kinds of task activities responsibility for which has been differentially distributed and also a place for social interaction between friends; the identities of 'friend' and 'co-worker' thereby potentially co-exist. Moreover, persons are singular (Harré, 1998), at the very least in terms of singular embodiment and of the 'sense of self' as indexed by the use of the first-person. The 'I' who moves between different social contexts, seeking to be recognised as having particular and separate identities in those contexts, nevertheless is (am?) the same singular person. Those different contexts constitute my life-world (note 10); but whilst it is 'my' life, it is 'our' world, interactionally negotiated and socially constructed.

Social contexts are also not all-of-a-kind; they differ in their extent, particularly in respect of time and space. So therefore do the identities appropriate to such contexts. The identity of passenger on a particular train which arrives an hour later than timetabled (giving rise to a claim for complaint and compensation, alongside the claims of fellow passengers) is highly restricted in terms of time and space compared with that of shareholder in a particular train operating company. My identity as parent has a fixed starting point in time and continues in various forms; the 'father of the new baby' differs from the 'father of the bride' although only two embodied persons may be designated, the father and the baby/ bride. The identity of an adult living in a late-twentieth century liberal democratic nation state is different from that of an adult living in the same geographical land a century earlier. Some identities relate to the general socio-economic and/or cultural order, which are fairly pervasive and change relatively slowly; others relate to specific contexts, limited in scope, engagement with which may be episodic and which may change relatively quickly. Social contexts, and the identities they implicate, may overlap and concatenate in various ways, or may be separate and discrete. But crucially, relatedness or otherwise between contexts is socially produced and not determined by inherent features of those contexts.

This discussion now provides the basis for examining the situation of black managers, for here we are concerned with two identities and how they relate. It is, of course, impossible here to rehearse the extensive debates on the concepts of 'race' and 'ethnicity', and on racism and racial discrimination. We take as given the understanding that phenotypical differences between peoples who are descended from those who, aeons ago, inhabited geographically disparate parts of the planet, constitute no objective basis for expecting differences in capabilities, preferences, capacity for moral and aesthetic action, etc. The construction of 'difference' and 'the Other' is socio-historic, not somatic, in origin. Clearly, however, representations of racial difference, particularly in terms of 'minority' as 'the Other', have had and continue to have significant social consequences.

Returning to the claim-affirmation model (figure 4), there are two situations depicted by the model where contestation over identity arises, cell 2 ('imposed identity') and cell 3 ('failed identity'). For any individual person in any particular context, either situation is a possibility. However, given that persons cross contexts and that contexts may overlap, in some cases both situations of contested identity may apply to the same person. This is, we argue, what happens in the case of many black persons seeking to become managers, and to progress their careers as managers.

The stereotypical representations of black people, overwhelmingly negative, have been well-documented. Whilst explicitly racist forms may now be less prominent and mostly covered by equality legislation, the historic legacy of military subjugation, conquest and empire, and of the enforced transportation of African slaves to the 'New World' continues to carry implicit representations of black people as 'inferior' in certain ways. In particular, the apparent low level of economic performance of African states which were former colonies, their apparent political instability, are featured in continuing media coverage. Even where 'positive' images of black people are presented, these tend to concentrate on sporting prowess, on stamina, strength and speed which, purportedly, were the very 'innate attributes' of the 'savage warrior' and the slave, the dominant images of black persons in earlier times.

In contemporary society, such representations provide the background set of social ascriptions which tend to come into play, because of the 'visibility' of the physical differences to which racialised discourse has given significance. Black people are more 'visibly' present in many non-managerial occupations, particularly low-skilled manual and service jobs, and also amongst the unemployed labour force. The dominant social identification of a black person is one which thus places them in cell 2 on the model in figure 4: 'black person' equals 'non-manager' is the implicit social ascription despite the claim on managerial identity which any particular black person may attempt.

Moreover, the historical legacy of 'mastery', through military subjugation and colonisation and through slavery, positions black people as subordinate. To place a black person in a superior position, as a manager of white employees (subordinates) would run counter to this received view of 'the order of things'. Even where senior management take a decision to appoint a black manager, that person still faces the task of attaining social affirmation as manager by her or his subordinates (note 11). The 'right' of that person to hold a position of 'mastery' is likely to be subject to significant testing and challenge in various ways, overt and covert. This potentially places the individual's identity position in cell 3 of the model, 'failed identity'.

Thus black persons seeking to lay claim to a managerial identity face a dual hazard, a double jeopardy in their identity projects. The must not only gain social affirmation in a managerial identity; this task faces anyone aspiring to be a manager, but black persons must do this under the legacy of European (white) subjugation of Africa (black), colonisation and slavery. They must counter the stereotypical representations that implicitly inform (sic!) the dominant (ie white) social ascriptions of black identity, attributions which are contrary to those which are deemed to be characteristic of effective managers. Of course, such difficulties are never, or rarely, explicit. In contrast to the visibility of bodily features focussed on by racialised perceptions of 'difference', the identity project hazards faced by aspirant black managers constitute tacit barriers.

6. Towards the making of black managers: seeing the barriers, hearing the voices

The foregoing analysis, based on a processual concept of identity, suggest the need for empirical research on the 'making' of black managers, examining the experience of black persons seeking to attain and maintain managerial positions. In what forms does potential hazard become realised? How do aspirant/ novice black managers attempt to deal with such hazard? What approaches are not tried, and why not? There is a need to hear voices of those who have sought and not attained, or attained then lost, managerial positions. There is also a need to examine the social (organisational and societal) structures and processes which present barriers, to entry into and to progress within managerial positions. Even those situations where black managers are visible in significant numbers should provide useful sites for the study of these issues. For example, anecdotal evidence obtained by one of the present authors (GR) suggests that black workers themselves often engage in responses which we here designate as 'disaffirmation' (note 12).

Where we believe the framework presented here to have significant analytical utility is in pointing to generalised issues of management selection and METD. The role of identity formation for all aspirants to and holders of managerial positions points to the need for comparative studies. We need to understand, therefore, how the 'hazards' facing black persons are similar to and different from those of white persons. The currently dominant emphasis on management practice in the theorisation and practice of METD is one-sided, and so is complicit in the perpetuation of the barriers faced by black persons aspiring to managerial posts. Any critical approach to management education, training and development must therefore extend the boundaries of its theorisation and practice to take account of issues of identity (note 13).


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Strauss, A. (1959) Mirrors and Masks: the Search for Identity, New York: The Free Press

Weigert, A., Teitge, J. and Teitge, D. (1986) Society and Identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


1. Davidson's (1997) research work on black and ethnic minority women managers is a rare example of mainstream UK publications, but is mainly framed within her broader work on women in management (Eg Davidson and Cooper, 1992; Davidson and Burke, 1994). Other UK studies on black managers tends to be small-scale publication (eg African and Caribbean Finance Forum et al, 1996; Kwhali and St Hill, u.d., Local Government Management Board, 1998)

2. The Labour Force Survey's definition of 'Black groups' includes Black African, Black Caribbean, and a group designated as 'Other Black' but excluding those of mixed origin. LFS uses separate groupings for those of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin. Our concern in this paper is solely with manages in the former groups, for which we use the term 'black managers'.

3. Of course, such crude ratios tell us little about the nature of the positions actually held, and of the circumstances experienced

4.There is also the sensory data of touch, taste and smell, but these require a degree of bodily adjacency which is extremely rare in the arena of management to be worth consideration here.

5. Anecdotally, many people unused to auctions are said to be worried that, if they were to attend an auction, any innocent movement on their part would be taken to be a bid; this could not be a cause of such anxiety unless there were a gap between activity and performance, and between personal intention and social interpretation..

6. The wide range of social science concerns with issues of (variously) identity, subjectivity and the self can be seen by various literatures. Seminal sociological approaches within the interactionist tradition include Goffman (1959, 1961) and Strauss (1959) although, of course, the work of Mead was extensively influential on the whole tradition. Henriques et al. (1984) draw particularly upon the work of Foucault in examining the role of psychology in constructing the 'subject' within relations of power and social regulation, a theme also taken up by Rose(1989). Weigert et al. (1986) present an overview of the emergence of the 'identity' as a key concept within sociological psychology, from the 1940s through to the 1980s. More recently, issues of identity have been taken up within social constructionist discursive psychology (eg Shotter and Gergen, 1989; Gergen, 1991). Harré's exploration of 'human ways of being', social, personal and physical, is presented in a trilogy (1979, 1983, 1991) with the first being rewritten in recognition that the 'discursive turn' in psychology was 'here to stay' (1993). Giddens' structuration approach leads him to an examination of the 'reflexive project' of the self under late modernity (1991).

7. Affirmation and its contrary, disaffirmation, may be considered as ascription in relation to claim (and disclaim).

8. Display may be over-done; the constant drawing attention to identity claim may be counter-productive - 'protesting too much'.

9. This does not preclude certain non-social factors allowing for, or affording, certain constructions of the situation rather than others.

10. The dramaturgical approach tends towards a rather Machiavellian model of the person knowingly adopting different roles for different situations.

11. We should also note that senior management often use the excuse of 'worker racism' to warrant the non-appointment of black applicants for managerial positions.

12. The phrase 'Uncle Tom' has certainly in the past been a term of abuse used by black people against others who are seen to have 'sold out'.

13. The term 'self' is, of course, well-established in METD particularly in terms of 'self-development'. The analysis here should be clearly seen as taking a very different approach to the concept of 'self', especially in its rejection of any idea of a 'true' or 'real' self. In particular, the 'onion skin' model in which an 'essential I' lies at the centre of layers of values, attitudes, habits, skills and so on (Burgoyne, 1985, p.49)


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