Academic journal article Journal of the National Society of Allied Health

Empowering African American Women in Higher Education through Mentoring

Academic journal article Journal of the National Society of Allied Health

Empowering African American Women in Higher Education through Mentoring

Article excerpt

Angela Thomas Davis, Ed.D., OTR/L

Assistant Professor/Interim Chair

Department of Occupational Therapy

Alabama State University


Despite many decades of discrimination against women, efforts geared toward eliminating career advancement disparities in higher education for African American women have at times seemed futile. The attainments of black women outpace black men in every category and discipline in higher education. However, women still lag far behind black men in faculty appointments and tenure ("News and Views," 1995) .To this end, mentoring has been identified as a factor in leading to upward mobility, success in education, and personal development (Crawford & Smith 2005). Crawford and Smith indicated in their research findings that the majority of African American female administrators stated that their families provided the only support in helping strive to attain their educational and professional goals. The alternative to family support is the development and implementation of mentoring programs that are geared towards advancing African American women to top-level leadership positions.

According to Bova (2000) fostering effective mentoring relationships in organizations is a complex process that demands flexibility and an understanding of human interrelations. In addition, as organizational diversity continues to grow, mentoring becomes increasingly complex, and can be influenced by bias and an "old boy" network. As African American women aspire to advance their role into leadership positions in the educational arena, mentoring needs should be addressed.

African American Women: The Statistics

According to the United States Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2001), the enrollment rate of 18-to-24-year-old African American women in colleges and universities has increased from 19% in 1980 to 31% in 2000. African American women constituted nearly two-thirds (63%) of the African American enrollment in colleges and universities. This represents a higher proportion of females enrolled than in all other racial/ethnic groups. The percentage of African American women between the age of 25 and 29 who have completed college (bachelor's degree or higher) shows an increased from 7% in 1965 to 17% in 2000.

In 1999, African Americans comprised 5% of all full-time instructional faculty in degree granting institutions. The proportion of African American full-time faculty was less than one half the proportion of African American students enrolled in colleges and universities in 1999. A larger percentage of African American faculty members were assistant professors and instructor (7%) as compared to associate professors (5%) and professors (3%). African American women made up a higher percentage of the total African American faculty compared to the proportion of female faculty in any other racial/ethnic group. Females made up 37% of all faculty as a national average, while African American female faculty comprised 50% of all African American faculty (NCES). With the increasing enrollment and graduation rate of African American women and the large percentage of these women in higher education, this creates an opportunity for institutions of higher learning to create mentoring programs to advance African American women into positions of leadership.

Barriers to Mentoring

Problems faced in the workplace have motivated African American women to develop strategies to assist other women in breaking through the barriers that have been impediments to progress in the workforce, particularly in the area of education. Even though the number of female administrators in education is 70% of the entire education profession, female administrators in higher education remain significantly underrepresented as a gender (Gupton & Slick, 1996). According to the literature, some of the major contributors to this underrepresentation are due to sociopolitical issues (Crawford & Smith, 2005), glass ceilings (Hays & Kearney, 1995)), attitudinal barriers (Hays & Kearney), and the absence of a mentor (Bova, 2000). …

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