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Preparing Diverse Leaders to Lead - Diversity in Executive Leadership


November 16-17, 2007
Johnson C. Smith University
Charlotte, North Carolina

Helen T. Caldwell, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Social Work,  Johnson C. Smith University

RoseMary Watkins, Ph.D., Headmaster/Executive Director, Alabama State University Southern Normal Campus

African-American women are somehow misinterpreted as “naturally” stronger and wiser, possessing more courage, resourcefulness, and compassion than the balance of the population.  Those characteristics that have helped African-American women survive are entirely communicable.  Moreover, at a time when the problems of our society seem insoluble and the obstacles to peace and freedom insurmountable, all American have a great deal to learn from the history and the lives of African-American women (Welch, 1992).

The achievements of African-American women have not been celebrated throughout history.  When examining the presence of African-American women in higher education, it is important to be aware of their service in traditional educational positions and lower to mid-level management, as well as their absence from leadership positions in academic institutions.  Although academic leadership was still primarily considered an exclusive profession for men, African-American women were admitted as students to a limited number of colleges.  Later, African-American women entered Historically Black Colleges and Universities (referred to as HBCUs) as students, then as teachers and in some rare cases, administrators (Bonner, 2001).  Consequently, contemporary African-American women leaders may provide strategies for career paths modeling their own experiences.       

African-American women experience problems attaining and sustaining top administrative positions in higher education (Rusher, 1966).  They currently comprise 9.2 percent and 7.3 percent of the chief executive officer positions at two year and four-year colleges and universities, respectfully.   Despite inadequate resources, low socioeconomic status, and insufficient opportunities, African-American women have managed to survive.  In the modern era, most women are highly educated; however, statistics provide evidence of little advancement of African-American women have as presidents of major colleges and universities.  In fact, African-American women have led on 1 percent of those institutions since 1991 (American Council on Education, 2002).

New Leadership Responsibilities
Since the early 1980s, institutions of higher education have been pressured by federal and state governments, the public, and the business sector to demonstrate institutional effectiveness (Lane and Brown, 2004, Terenzini, 1999). Along with the demonstration and conveyance of institutional effectiveness, quality and accountability are some of the primary issues being discussed in the national dialogue on the future of higher education. Bogue and Hall (2003) defined quality as conforming to mission specifics and goal achievement within publicly accepted standards of accountability and integrity. Accountability entails measurement and a quantification of aims and accomplishments, and demonstrates that the efforts of the institution actually move toward a desired end (Ohmann, 2000). Volkwein (2003) posits that accountability provides proof of the value added. Institutional effectiveness examines the extent to which institutions meet their stated mission, goals, and objectives (Dugan & Hemon, 2002). The Commission on Colleges (1997) defines institutional effectiveness as institution-wide engagement in a pursuit for educational equality, effectiveness, and fulfillment of mission or purpose; a formal system in which a university establishes specific goals, determine how well the goals are achieved, and uses assessment results to improve educational programs. Researchers posit that the implementation of such assessment activities should be a collaborative effort that includes faculty, administrators and students (Volkwein, 2003).

In response to the demands for more accountability, institutions of higher education have assessed progress toward achieving outcomes using performance indicators, which reveal student learning outcomes, student persistence and graduation rates (Cohen, 1996). The assessment of these learning outcome measures has been endorsed by funding agencies, legislators, and accrediting associations as an appropriate tool for educational institutions to demonstrate accountability and effectiveness. Universities also use this assessment framework in a self-learning system consisting of outcomes data and information feedback. Feedback data include the efficiency [outputs], quality, and effectiveness [outcomes] of the programs. Once analyzed, these data are used to make decisions about program changes, refinements and improvements in design and implementation (Kettner, Moroney, & Martin, 1999). However, the changing conditions that impact institutions will require organizational improvement, institutional redesign and transformation (Peterson, 1999), even in assessment activities. Women and minorities in leadership positions at institutions of higher education would benefit from gaining the knowledge and skills needed to assess institutional effectiveness and convey accountability. 

Factors Contributing to the Underrepresentation of Women and Minorities
There are several factors which contribute to the underrepresentation of African-Americans in higher educational leadership.  Those factors may center on such issues, as the gender and race of the candidates, the recruitment and retention rates of underrepresented personnel, and university support systems (Gray, 1997).    The Dixon (2005) study reports that diversity higher education is difficult to achieve under the guidelines of the dominant culture.  Additionally, she purports that the American educational system is designed to perpetuate the culture and values of the dominant society.  This dominant culture framework historically has been a barrier to the expansion and inclusion of women and ethnic minorities.  While the absence of an African-American woman president at an academic institution may hinge on one factor or a combination of factors, diversity in the academy leadership is needed given U.S. demographics and the global market demands of the economy.

A part of U.S. history and still pervasive today is sexism, which is defined as the belief that men are superior to women.  Sexism occurs when women are discriminated against because of their gender.  Gender and race equity studies can be traced back to the Equal Pay Act of 1963.  This act was designed to prohibit sex discrimination in employment by requiring equality in pay for the skills and work demonstrated on the job (Rai and Critzer, 2000).

Statistics presented from the American Council on Education (2002), referred to as ACE, documents the underrepresentation of African-American women in top administrative positions in higher education. Some attribute the low representation to an insufficient applicant pool perpetuated by the small number of doctorate degree recipients in the educational pipeline (Turner, Myers & Creswell, 2000).  Still there are others who believe the academic leadership pipeline could be greatly increased if more African-American in historically Black colleges and universities were viewed as viable candidates.  Additional statistics from the ACE document that at two year and four year institutions the total number of presidents for White men was 1, 980; White women, 509; African-American men, 136; and African-American women, 50. 

The promotion and encouragement of African-American women representation in positions of authority is paramount to progress.  As noted by Hite (2004), an important factor to increase African-American women representation is the consistent reproduction of women role models.  Hite posits, “… many Black women managers lack both role models and peers because they are the only representatives of their combined race and gender at higher levels in organizations” (p. 11).  Paterson and Hart-Wasekeesikaw (1994) suggest that these peer groups are critical and increase one’s satisfaction in the environment of higher education for productivity in research and overall success in academe.

Upward Mobility Factors for Leadership
Mimms (1996) explored the characteristics of successful black women administrators through surveys and interviews with two black female presidents and two who were not presidents.  The findings identified six factors that enhanced career success: (1) a doctorate, (2) visibility from participation in national organizations, (3) communication skills, (4) people support, (5) previous administrative experience, and (6) willingness to relocate. 

Granovetter’s theory of social networking (1973) is associated with strengthening ties focusing on understanding the impact of relationships (formal or strong ties and informal or weak ties) that bring an individual into contact with socially distinct ideas that might be otherwise unavailable.  As indicated by Payne & Hyle (2001), it is not only who you know, but whom and what they know based on what they tell you.   According to Pugliesi (1989), social support resources among groups’ affect emotional well-being and health in two major ways.  As an intervening variable, support can modify stressors and can be related to social location.  This may also be an indicator of sustainability in discriminating environments.

African-American women face multiple challenges to their self-esteem, including racism and sexism.  Very little research on self-esteem has taken into account African-American women’s conceptualization of self-esteem.  However, Hamilton’s (2004) interviews with six college presidents showed social support and self-reliance interconnected with self-esteem as an extremely important attribute for upward mobility.  Social support came from families, friends, churches, and communities; the women learned from these sources to be self-reliant and empowered. 

Eagly, Makhjijani, and Klonsky (1992) found that autocratic women leaders are evaluated negatively by men, which highlighted the need for social identity explanation of the negative evaluation by men.  Males tend to identify more with an autocratic leadership style and were not happy with women who adopted that style, despite the fact that the men responded on a survey that gender was irrelevant.  The women in this experiment did not diverge in their identification with gender of the autocratic leader.

Communication is an important element in the style of African-American women in higher education.  Cultural patterns of communication need to be understood by all concerned.  Jones studied the African-American women presidents of colleges and universities in the United States.   She found that there is little literature on African-American women presidents and suggests that the personal and local factors that lead to their leadership development would have implications for the nurturing of other black women interested in leadership positions in higher education (Welch, 1992, p. 23).

The Becker, Ayman, Korbik (2002) study discussed how leaders lead.  They found that initiating structured behaviors influence leadership in ways such as organizational context, gender, and self-monitoring ability related to discrepancies between the leader’s self-perceptions and group members’ perceptions of the leader’s consideration and initiating structured behaviors.

The authors of this paper have conducted research developed in their dissertations that contributed to this conversation.  In the Watkins (2006) study on the perceived effectiveness of outcomes measures as indicators of institutional effectiveness and accountability, participants identified a consistent set of outcomes measures that may be instrumental in determining a systematic process for collecting and analyzing data relating to the goals and outcomes developed to support university missions. The participants outlined a system for assessing outcomes, and ultimately communicating these outcomes to facilitate decision-making and continuous improvement.

Caldwell (2006) recommends from her study of five African-American college presidents that emphasis should be placed on mentoring.  Participants in her study spoke highly on the importance of their mentors in upward mobility.  Most institutions have Faculty Development Programs funded by external sources.  An advanced Leadership Development Program funded through external sources such as ACE or NAFEO would be an asset to increase the number of African-American women leaders and chief executive officers in particular.

Higher education institutions or African-American women presidents could develop networks to exchange ideas and innovative practices.  These networks would allow for conversations to occur regarding shared common experiences, mentoring, promotions, and networking.  There is much to be gained through the development of social capital.  The use of annual networking events or support systems may build the numbers of presidents in this underrepresented category.    


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