Kim Borden Penney

Kim Borden Penney (She/her)
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Social Justice Education
Institute of Studies in Education University of Toronto

Research Project

Kim is a descendent of Indigenous Black Canadians in Nova Scotia (Scotians) whose roots reach back to the late 1600s. Her doctoral study titled Banking on Equity: Bay Street and Black Women’s Leadership in Banks examined Black women’s leadership experiences in the Toronto banking sector and their perceptions about opportunities for mobility and advancement to executive management positions. The aim of her study was to examine the factors and conditions that make Black women’s executive leadership in corporate Canada so exceedingly rare.

The connections between race, gender, and leadership are difficult to find in Canadian literature. The study was one of the first Canadian examinations of Black women’s leadership experience in the banking sector. It examines how race and gender are conceptualized and constituted in multiple ways, through corporate culture, HR policies and practices, and employment equity policies. The study’s theoretical framework is centered on Critical Race Theory, Canadian Black Feminist Thought, and Intersectionality, which critically examines the structures and policies that directs attention to narratives of the historical, political, employment, and socio-cultural experiences of Black people in Canada.

Her consulting company Penney Consulting Services Inc. supports industry and non-profits in Toronto and New York City in the planning and implementation of diversity, equity and inclusion-related program and services in alignment with the organization’s strategic direction and priorities.

Findings and Challenges in Research:

Black women remain unrepresented from the onset at every level and fewer are hired at every subsequent step in Corporate Canada. To gain mobility Black women must “work twice as hard to get half as far” to disprove the stereotypes associated with them to be considered valued, deemed competent and respected by leadership to advance in their careers.  Having to “work twice as hard to get half as far” is evidence of the nuance of anti-Black racism in the banking sector.  Black women continue to be subjected to individual, systemic, and institutional racial discrimination and harassment based on anti-Black racism and stereotypes. They experience various forms of racial harassment from bullying, hostility, surveillance of their appearance, macro-aggression, micro-aggression and racist comments. Participant’s experienced workplace racism that was directly a consequence of negative stereotype representations of Black women. These negative stereotypes are a feature of dominant racial narratives that function as a form of racial characterization, the creation of simplified and stereotyped scripts that prescribe the roles, behaviours, intentions, competence and capacities of Black women. The four main racial characterizations most prominent in participants’ narratives were:  the angry Black women, not competent, not a good fit, and not a team player. Participants indicated that when they walk into corporate white spaces all people see is the colour of their skin and could not care less about their expertise, knowledge and competence. I found that dominant corporate narratives from Black women within the corporate landscape produce a series of “playing the game” contending to navigate interpersonal racialized interactions that participants described reproduced oppression through re-enactments of racial scripts and characterizations that they resist through strategic performances of the self.

In terms of challenges, there are so few Black women in leadership roles that finding them was a challenge. The second challenge was to find participants who were willing to discuss their experiences. Due to COVID-19, planned in-person interviews and focus groups were moved to an online platform. As a result I devoted more time and space for the participants to be comfortable in the new virtual setting (I started my research in March 2020). We discussed the pandemic, how it was affecting them and their families, what it was like to work from home and then we started the interview.

Kim’s insights and advice to other graduate students:

I am Black Indigenous Canadian (Scotian) and an African American woman researcher conducting a study on Black women’s leadership experience in the Canadian banking sector.  I have a shared Black experience, and was considered an insider as a Black Canadian, but an outsider as an African American. In Canada, where Black society and Black membership are fragmented along lines of ethnicity, cultural identity, my insider status was still constituted by other factors that make race an aspect of secondary consequence: “thus, the meaning and impact of racial difference are complicated by culture, ethnicity, age, class, and accent…” (Twine, 2009, p.9). Intersectionality scholars argue that conceptualizations of Black women’s identities require more than the realization that race, gender, and other categories that coincide (Jordan-Zachary, 2007, Hancock, 2003, Simien, 2006). All twelve participants are from the Caribbean or have Caribbean heritage. I have read Caribbean history, heritages and cultures but have not experienced it first-hand. Therefore, simply sharing the same race and gender as the Black women leaders did not guarantee that I would fully connect with the participants in the study (Few, Stephens, and Rouse-Arnett, 2003). I was aware of the various identities and the intersections and nuances based on generational status, ethnicity, culture, and country of origins of the Black women professionals I interviewed. These differences made it clear that one can be an outsider when conducting fieldwork in one’s own racial/gender in-group. Namely, my relative insider status as a Black Indigenous Canadian (Scotian) woman and outsider status as an African American. Black ethnicities and cultures are not a monolithic experience.

My interviewing experiences centred on my own racial and cultural performance as a Black Indigenous Canadian (Scotian) and African American woman. Feminist research calls on us to examine the research context of power and domination and to look closely at my own intersections of race, gender, and other identities. I must also examine how my subjectivities and perceptions are negotiated and changed, not only in relation to Black women as researched participants, but also through interactions with the dominant culture.

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