Still I rise: the role of social capital on the experiences of African American women senior administrators in higher education

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Coretta R. Walker (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Laura Gonzalez

Abstract: While the racial and ethnic diversity of the United States of America’s overall population (especially the college student population) are expanding at unprecedented levels, the leadership within higher education’s Ivory Tower has remained consistent for the past 300 years. At the highest levels, leadership remains largely monolithic – this is both White and male (Pratt-Clarke & Maes, 2017). African American women are severely underrepresented in senior level leadership positions. Defined as being at the Director level or above (Bertrand Jones et al. 2012), these types of administrative positions include titles such as Director, Associate Vice President/Chancellor, Associate/Assistant Dean, Vice President/Vice Chancellor, Provost and President/Chancellor. Whether teaching in the classroom or serving as an administrator, the narrative remains the same. In the classroom, African American women account for 8.04% or 25,114 of all full-time faculty members at degree-granting institutions (Johnson, 2017). Women faculty outnumber their male counterparts, but males are more likely to have tenure (Johnson, 2017). This trend is also true for African Americans. While there are fewer African American men than African American women faculty members (19,032 men compared to 25,114 women), over one and half times as many African American men have achieved full professor status – 4,010 versus 2,710 (Johnson, 2017). According to Gagliaradi et al. (2017), only 8% of college or university Presidents across all institution types identified as African Americans in 2016. This is just a 2% increase, as the statistic has held relatively static from 2001 to 2011 (Gagliaradi et al., 2017). At the same time, women comprise only 30% of all Presidents, with only 5% of college Presidents identify as women of color (Gagliaradi et al., 2017). It should be noted that this statistic includes women in all major ethnic groups, again silencing and flattening the experiences of African American women. For African American women in these roles, they experience significant barriers to gain entrance into these roles while leading their respective units. Two of the most significant barriers are structural – racism and sexism. This study utilized social network analysis (SNA) to study the structures of African American women’s formal and informal networks to learn more about the attributes that had the greatest impact on their success. The researcher used an online Qualtrics survey that yielded a sample of 140 African American women. Using the SNA measure degree centrality, findings highlight that mentors and supervisors were the most popular roles in their networks while the title of Directors and Vice Chancellor/President/Provost were the most popular position titles. Of note, 61.5% of all mentors (120 out of 195) were African American with 75.8%, or 91of the 120, identifying as African American women. This finding suggests that homophily is significantly present in the sample. Homophily is the tendency to be connected to people who are similar to them. Overall, members of respondents’ informal and formal networks supported them by building capacity and confidence, assisting them with work-related matters, and advocating for an opportunity with new responsibilities. When asked which resources supported their ongoing success in their role, faith/spirituality/religion, professional organizations, and family support were the most influential using the brokerage SNA measure. Future research is needed to study more about the absence of sponsors and White males in their networks. Additional research can be completed to test if homophily is present in other minority populations.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2020
African American women, Senior leaders, Social capital, Social network analysis
African American women college administrators $x Social networks
Discrimination in higher education $z United States
Social capital (Sociology) $z United States
Educational leadership $z United States

Email this document to