Black Families in Corporate America


Susan D. Toliver

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  • Part I: The Study

    Part II: The Data

  • Understanding Families

    Series Editors: Bert N.Adams, University of Wisconsin David M. Klein, University of Notre Dame

    This book series examines a wide range of subjects relevant to studying families. Our book series examines a wide range of subjects relevant to studying families. Topics include, but are not limited to, theory and conceptual design, research methods on the family, racial/ethnic families, mate selection, marriage, family power dynamics, parenthood, divorce and remarriage, custody issues, and aging families.

    The series is aimed primarily at scholars working in family studies, sociology, psychology, social work, ethnic studies, gender studies, cultural studies, and related fields as they focus on the family. Volumes will also be useful for graduate and undergraduate courses in sociology of the family, family relations, family and consumer sciences, social work and the family, family psychology, family history, cultural perspectives on the family, and others.

    Books appearing in Understanding Families are either single- or multiple-authored volumes or concisely edited books of original chapters on focused topics within the broad interdisciplinary field of marriage and family.

    The books are reports of significant research, innovations in methodology, treatises on family theory, syntheses of current knowledge in a family subfield, or advanced textbooks. Each volume meets the highest academic standards and makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of marriages and families.

    The National Council on Family Relations cosponsors with Sage a book award for students and new professionals. Award-winning manuscripts are published as part of the Understanding Families series.

    Multiracial Couples: Black and White Voices

    Paul C. Rosenblatt, Terri A. Karis, and Richard D. Powell

    Understanding Latino Families: Scholarship, Policy, and Practice

    Edited by Ruth E. Zambrana

    Current Widowhood: Myths & Realities

    Helena Znaniecka Lopata

    Family Theories: An Introduction

    David M. Klein and James M. White

    Understanding Differences Between Divorced and Intact Families

    Ronald L. Simons and Associates

    Adolescents, Work, and Family: An Intergenerational Developmental Analysis

    Jeylan T. Mortimer and Michael D. Finch

    Families and Time: Keeping Pace in a Hurried Culture

    Kerry J. Daly

    No More Kin: Exploring Race, Class, and Gender in Family Networks

    Anne R. Roschelle

    Contemporary Parenting: Challenges and Issues

    Edited by Terry Arendell

    Families Making Sense of Death

    Janice Winchester Nadeau

    Black Families in Corporate America

    Susan D. Toliver

    Reshaping Fatherhood: The Social Construction of Shared Parenting

    Anna Dienhart


    View Copyright Page


    To Jordan with love, for whom all good things will he possible.


    As an African American and a black family scholar, my long-standing interest in black families is both personal and professional. On a personal level, I have recognized the importance and cultural uniqueness of the African American family. On a professional level, my interest in black life and culture was academically nurtured during my undergraduate years at Clark University. My interests eventually focused on black families and I began a systematic exploration of African American or black families while a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley. The family in slavery was the subject of my dissertation. From that point, I moved on to looking at more contemporary problems and issues of family.

    Motivation for the Study

    A review of the literature on families reveals that published research on black families has been sparse; and, until recently, there has been almost no attention paid to black middle-class families. With the exception of Frazier's (1957) Black Bourgeoisie, research efforts concerned with black families have focused on non-middle-class black families. In the past several years, a limited number of scholars have begun to examine the particulars of this neglected-by-research family group (see Barnes, 1985; McAdoo, 1978, 1988; Willie, 1991a, 1991b). There remains much to be said, and many of the nuances of this type of black family are yet to be explored.

    Except for the late 1960s through the 1970s, when we saw a proliferation of works published about blacks and black families, much of the research on black families has been conceptualized in the pejorative. Much of what has been written about black families has focused on the problems in black life and black families, including those of teen pregnancy and, in recent years, the plight of the black underclass. Thus, the view of the black family conveyed by the contemporary literature on blacks is heavily weighted in the direction of the problematic, if not the pathological.

    Struck by the paucity in the literature of models of strong black families, strong middle-class black families, and the preponderance of focus on pejorative issues, I grew enthusiastic about filling this void. It seemed logical to me that if solutions were to be sought for the myriad of problems that plague so many contemporary black families, one must begin by looking at strong black families—those who had survived and achieved against the odds. If we could identify those factors that functioned to bolster and sustain successful black families, perhaps from here we could make proscriptions for those black families that needed strengthening.

    Although the concerns of non-middle-class black families are important and the problems that exist among black families due to poverty and other social factors are urgent and crucial, we need to know more about more stable and positive models of black families as well. This is not to say that positive models of family do not exist among the poor and working class, for they do. Rather, that we are more likely to find them among middle-class families because of the economic stability that they enjoy; the opposite of which is causal of the array of problems affecting those families for whom this is lacking. Research agendas should continue to focus attention on families in our society that suffer disadvantage, but should also focus increased attention on the array of families that constitute the whole of black families. Furthermore, models of stable black families are needed to find solutions for families that need assistance. We learn about strengths and how to be successful from strong, successful families.

    In narrowing my focus to a specific population for study, I considered looking at families by occupational grouping including the clergy and physicians. But, it seemed potentially most valuable to focus on black corporate families because they are the newest among occupational groups of successful black families. The corporation, whose doors were closed to African Americans in professional and managerial capacities for so many decades, appears to be the new avenue for achievement of middle-class status for blacks.

    The Previous Research Efforts from which this Work Flows

    Although there are many black family scholars on whose shoulders I stand in developing this work (Walter Allen, Joyce Ladner, Harriette McAdoo, Marie Peters, Robert Staples, Charles Willie, and others), there is another handful of scholars, some living, some no longer with us, whom I am compelled to name. Their writings uniquely informed and inspired this work. My first inspiration was W. E. B. DuBois (1908), the father of black family studies, who authored the first major empirical work in U.S. sociology in 1899, and to whom eternal praise is due. I was also inspired by E. Franklin Frazier, a student of DuBois's and one of the most (if not the most) prominent African American sociologists of the 20th century. Frazier (1939, 1957) helped focus research on the Negro family in the United States and the Negro middle class. But he left us wanting a fuller view of black families, one that also shed light on its more positive attributes and on the nature of that experience. Andrew Billingsley (1968), in Black Families in White America, gave us a new look at black families and a more positive view of middle-class black families. But his structuralist approach offered only one angle or perspective. Robert Hill (1971) focused attention on the historical strengths of black families, which traditionally helped these families to survive. He wrote on the heels of what, to that point in time with little exception, had been a highly pejorative literature. He wrote about black families across different socioeconomic classes and statuses. An important aspect of his contribution to black family study and family strengths literature was his isolation of the strengths of African American families from family strengths in general. Bart Landry (1987), in The New Black Middle Class, presented a more up-to-date report on the experiences of the contemporary African American middle class, providing insight several decades beyond the view that Frazier offered on the experiences of African Americans by race and by class. Finally, in this decade, Feagin and Sikes (1994) highlight the insidious persistence of racism for blacks in the middle class.

    It is my hope that this book will be of value to a broad-ranged audience. Specifically, it should be a useful tool for practitioners for proscribing family health and strength. It should be useful for scholars in increasing their understanding of black middle-class family dynamics, particularly black corporate families. Ideally, it will assist those in corporate employ, particularly those in management, in enhancing strategies for enriching corporate life and increasing productivity. Finally, it should assist blacks and other minorities as well in their climb up the corporate ladder.

    Please note that the names of the respondents in this study have been changed and the names of the corporations in which they are employed withheld to maintain confidentiality.


    There are many to whom I wish to express a most sincere thank-you for their encouragement, support, and assistance in completing this project: to Jim Nageotte, Margaret Zusky, and the staff of Sage Publications for their interest in and enthusiasm for the book; to those who assisted with providing the sample for the study; to the corporate managers and their families who participated in this research by providing the data for it, for their candor, enthusiasm, and accommodation; to my departmental colleagues for their professional and personal encouragement; to Mary Bruno and the staff of the Iona College Information Technology Resource Center for numerous hours of technical support; and to Leona Uju Ogbogu, Dora Mendez, John Pahucki, and Peter Byrons for their assistance with library work and miscellanea.

    Much appreciation and sincere thanks go to Bert Adams and David Klein, who I have admired and whose work I have respected for many years, for their direction and the careful reading of this book. They were demanding, yet wonderful to work with. Thanks also to my father, Earl Van Dyke Toliver, for numerous hours of loving child care and for reading earlier versions of the book. Unbounded thanks and affection go to my husband, Stephen J. Perry, for his unconditional support, praise, and encouragement in my work and for this project from start to finish, and to my son, Jordan Toliver Perry, for being such a special joy. To all of my friends, relatives, and colleagues who spurred me on to complete Black Families in Corporate America—many thanks.

  • Appendix A: Content and Organization of Manager's Interview Questionnaire

    • Personal Data
    • Background Information (antecedent factors)
    • Corporate Demands
    • Work Environment
    • Community
    • Family Strengths
      • Support From Kin/Kinship Bonds
      • Adaptability of Family Roles
      • Religious Orientation
      • Achievement Orientation
      • Role Flexibility
    • Family Stress
    • Wives' Incorporation

    Appendix B: Items Assessing Five Traditional Black Family Strengths

    Work Orientation
    • On an average, how many evenings per week do you work late?
    • How often do you travel out of town on company business?
    Adaptability of Family Roles
    • How many evenings during the week do you spend time with your children?
    • How often are you the sole supervisor of your children's activities?
    • Describe how this time is spent.
    • Which of the following activities do you engage in with your children on a regular basis?
      • Giving child a bath
      • Reading a story
      • Checking homework
      • Putting child to bed
      • Transporting to lessons, scout meeting, other activities
    • Do you share in the household chores?
    • Are there household chores that you perform on a regular basis?
    • If so, which ones?
    • Did your mother ever work when you were a child?
    • Does she work now?
    • Did other women in your family work? (excluding spouse)
    • Did your spouse's mother work when your wife was a child?
    • Does she work now?
    • Did other women in your spouse's family work?
    Achievement Orientation
    • Do you aspire to further promotions or upward career moves within or outside of your company?
    • How would you compare your level of success to that with those with whom you grew up?
    • To what do you attribute your success? (indicate as many things as are applicable)
    Religious Orientation
    • As a child, did you and any members of your family attend church?
    • Same for spouse?
    • If so, how often?
    • Do you attend church now?
    • If so, how often?
    • Do your children attend church?
    • Do you consider yourself to be a religious person?
    Kinship Bonds
    • Among your relatives, excluding your spouse, is there someone you can turn to for advice, understanding, or support?
    • How often do you communicate with family members living outside your household?
    • How often do you see relatives who live outside of your household?
    • How far away do you reside from members of your family?
    • Are there at present, or have there been in the past, relatives other than your spouse and children (including those by a previous relationship) residing in your household?
      • If yes, who?
      • For how long?
      • Was (is) this a permanent arrangement?
    • Do you receive any kind of help or support from family members?
    • In what ways do family members help you? List as many as applicable. (financial, emotional, child care, advice, and so on)
    • Describe the frequency of help or support, on any level, that you receive.
    • How important is their help to you, or how important do you consider their help and support to be in your life?
    • Is support within your kinship network reciprocal? Explain.
    • Did your family assist you financially with your education?
    • From which of the following sources do you receive the most support?
      • Family
      • Friends
      • Community or service agencies


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    About the Author

    Susan D. Toliver, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Women's Studies at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, where she previously held the position of Coordinator of Peace and Justice Education. She holds a doctoral degree in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley, and a master's degree in higher education administration from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her areas of specialization include the family, race and ethnic relations, and sex and gender studies. She has written about and researched the family, particularly the African American family. She is a member of several professional associations and is a past president of the New York State Council on Family Relations. At present, she serves as a member of the Advisory Council of the Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. She has done extensive work in multiculturalism—directing faculty development activities; leading workshops; conducting seminars; and evaluating departmental, multi-institutional, and statewide multicultural diversity projects. She is an AIDS activist and has conducted seminars and workshops on the subject as well as developed AIDS educational outreach materials for African American women.

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