Concrete Ceilings: African Canadian Women and the Pursuit of Leadership in the Public Sector

Wanda Thomas Bernard, Shalyse Sangster, Anne-Marie Hay


This research consisted of qualitative interviews with 21 Black women who currently held, had held, or were qualified for managerial-level positions in the public service sector. The research questions were as follows: (1) What internal and external supports contribute to Black women obtaining leadership positions in the public sector in Canada? (2) What internal and external barriers have Black women faced in obtaining leadership positions in the Canadian public sector? The researchers conclude that Black women experience various forms of discrimination, racism, oppression and typecasting, which have been prevalent in their journeys through public sector employment. Participants identified many barriers to being successful in the workplace, most of which can be attributed to racism. In spite of these barriers, a number of Black women identified internal and external supports and strengths that had enabled them to obtain these positions. The most prevalent supports found in this study include self-determination, faith, colleagues and mentors, community supports, friends and family. Many participants identified these supports as helping them to be successful in the public sector, in spite of the systematic racism that exists.  By participating in this study, Black women reported feeling heard and validated. Three recommendations arose:  the establishment of a formal support system for Black women interested in public-sector employment; commitment from public-sector leaders to assist in system-wide changes; and a call to action for African Canadian women to engage in activities that promote ongoing self-advocacy and self-empowerment.


Black women, public sector, barriers, racism, sexism

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