The daughter of politician Alex Herman and Gloria Caponis, a school teacher, Alexis grew up in Mobile and earned her high school diploma in 1965 from the Heart of Mary High School. She briefly attended Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, and Spring Hill College in Mobile, but transferred to Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, where she became an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 1969.
After college, Herman worked for Catholic Charities and other agencies advocating minority women employment. Jimmy Carter met the young Herman while campaigning in Atlanta, Georgia and, after winning the White House in 1977, tapped her to be Director of the Labor Department's Women's Bureau. At age 29, she was the youngest person to ever serve in that position.
In 1981, Herman founded her own consulting firm - A.M. Herman & Associates. She served as president of the company while remaining active in Democratic politics. During her tenure as chief of staff and later vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, she was responsible for organizing the 1992 Democratic National Convention.
After Bill Clinton's victory in the 1992 Presidential election, Herman became deputy director of the Presidential Transition Office. She was later appointed to head the White House Office of Public Liaison, where she was responsible for the administration's relations with interest groups.
During Clinton's second term, Herman was named Secretary of Labor, the first African American to be nominated for that position and the fifth woman to be appointed. Her nomination was initially opposed by Congressional Republicans and labor unions, but she earned praise from her peers for her handling of the 1997 UPS workers strike. She came under investigation for taking cash bribe and/or illegal campaign donations as an aide to Clinton from 1994 to 1996. She was the 5th cabinet officer be investigated by independent counsel. Bill Clinton testified on her behalf. In 2000 the investigation ended with no indictment.
During the 2000 Florida election recount, Herman was part of team planning a transition to a Gore Administration, and she was mentioned as a likely candidate for White House Chief of Staff. She was replaced as Secretary of Labor in the George W. Bush administration by Elaine Chao.
Herman now serves as the co-chairperson (with James Roosevelt, Jr.) of the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee.
Herman also now serves on the boards of several major companies, including Coca Cola Corporation's Human Resources Task Force, Toyota's Diversity Advisory Board, Cummins, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and Prudential and is the chairman and CEO of New Ventures, Inc.