Theses Doctoral

Phenomenal Woman: Women's Workplace Identity Development and Meaning Making Through Storytelling

Brito, Aurora M.

This case study examined women’s identity development in the workplace through the application of storytelling as a learning technique. Study participants included twenty-two women graduates and 2nd year students of diverse backgrounds ranging in ages 25 to 71 from a master’s degree applied theatre program in a Northeastern university. This study describes identity development through ways in which women make meaning of their lived experience and perceived interactions in the workplace. Data collection derived from 22 semi-structured interviews. Deeper data analysis surfaced through dramaturgical coding. Three analytical categories emerged: 1) Generations, 2) Race and 3) Sexual Orientation. The findings exposed power and positionality barriers as obstacles and challenges that undermine women’s careers. Three conclusions emerged: 1) Women continue to struggle with barriers that pose as obstacles and challenges to their learning and identity development in the workplace, 2) Women of color experience the double bind barriers of racism and sexism and 3) Women learn through storytelling and sharing workplace stories. This study privileges storytelling, a form of presentational knowing, as a legitimate way of knowing and has been shown to be conducive to learning and identity development. Women’s perspectives changed through theatre techniques using critical reflection and action; they engaged in communities of practice that offered supportive structures.

Also, there continues to be resistance to hard conversations around race and inequality. Diversity programs that build upon Paulo Freire’s praxis of reflection and action hold leaders who espouse diversity initiatives to account. To avoid the paradox of diversity, human resources diversity training, organizational learning, professional development and community based social programs can leverage the power of storytelling. Affective empathy as an embodied component of storytelling establishes empathic connections between dominant culture and the marginalized. Critical and constructive development theories need to be embedded into curriculum to address systemic racism. Presentational knowing is an effective tool for social action and social justice by broadening learning beyond adult education to encourage empathy between people whose views are different. This qualitative study is grounded in critical theory, John Heron’s (1992) Presentational knowing, theories of identity and constructive development.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Brito_tc.columbia_0055_11113.pdf Brito_tc.columbia_0055_11113.pdf application/pdf 1.74 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Organization and Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Yorks, Lyle
Bennett, Carmela
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
October 22, 2020