When you finally see us : a narrative inquiry of the rare sighting of Black females in officer ranks and positions in the United States Air Force.


As one looks at the top leadership positions and officer ranks in the United States Air Force, it becomes challenging to locate faces of Black females. Black women represent one-third of all women in the U.S. armed forces and their enlistment rates are higher than any other racial minority group (Melin, 2016). However, racial diversity diminishes at the officer ranks and positions of the military. In 2018, 25% of the officer corps was comprised of minorities. Out of that 25%, only 9% of the service members were of Black race (2018 Military OneSource, 2020). With statistics showing minorities making up a large percentage of the military demographics, the statistics related to minorities should also encompass a proportional amount of the officers. Yet Black females disproportionately do not pursue or obtain officer ranks and are underrepresented in officer ranks in the military. To further investigate the underrepresentation of Black female officers in the Air Force, this narrative study described and gained an understanding of the lived work experiences of African American women in the U.S Air Force who joined as enlisted members and then became officers. The conducted research targeted four Black female officers’ perspectives through semi-structured interviews utilizing open-ended questions. The narrative inquiry design provided a framework to explore how Black female military members who were once enlisted became an officer. The researcher described the results through the lens of Self Identity Theory, a theoretical framework used to interpret the way individuals view themselves and their distinctive characteristics and association in different groups (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). This study also supplements the research on the barriers and challenges faced by Black female military members due to their social identity. Additionally, the study informs future stakeholders on the lack of mentoring and networking programs specifically for African American females that is essential to raise their success in the military ranks and leadership positions. Furthermore, the findings of the study provide insight on retention and increasing the number of Black females in the Air Force’s officer corps and leadership positions.



Air Force. Black females. African-American females. Military officer. Military ranks. Leadership positions. United States Armed Forces.