Looking Towards the Sun: The Realities of Mentorship for Black Women

Looking Towards the Sun: The Realities of Mentorship for Black Women

Traci L. Ramsey
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9774-3.ch008
(Individual Chapters)
No Current Special Offers


Formal and informal mentorship is a valued and preferred tool among Black female higher education administrators seeking to foster connection, increase professional support, and receive direction from other experienced higher education leaders. Race can serve as a barrier to developing mentorship relationships because there are so few Black females in higher leadership roles and because cross-racial mentors may not fully understand the needs and struggles of Black females. When mentorship is lacking, professional growth and development can be stunted. This chapter examines research surrounding the needs of Black females in higher education, the value of counterspaces, and the value of cross-racial mentors. The chapter also summarizes strategies for practice when working with Black females and when serving as a mentor. Future research should determine the effectiveness of using these strategies in other minority-mentoring relationships in order to improve career advancement.
Chapter Preview

Black Female Leadership Needs

Research supports a struggle for Black women regardless of the levels of success obtained in their academic career (Blackshear & Hollis, 2021). Mentorship can be a valuable tool for all academic professionals, but for the Black female, it can be particularly important since Black women experience bias and discrimination in both academic and work contexts (Hague & Okpala, 2017). Hague and Okpala (2017) studied 12 African-American women working in North Carolina community colleges in mid to executive level leadership positions to determine their leadership experiences and their impact on their career advancement. The authors found that African-American women need to be proactive about their professional development, including finding mentors, training, education, and professional networking (Hague & Okpala, 2017).

Much of the mentoring research among Black females is focused on their student experience at predominantly White institutions (PWI). Davis (2007) investigated the experiences of underrepresented students and the influence that mentorship had on their decision to pursue advanced degrees. The study revealed a mentoring preference for Black students as a way to consider various career alternatives and confirmation that mentoring acted as a form of professional support and socialization (Davis, 2007). Grant (2012) presented empirical data on Black female mentorship of women seeking to advance into faculty positions at PWIs. The author identified Black doctoral students’ needs to be related to equity, fair treatment, judgement, and feelings of isolation. In this study, mentoring had positive career-related benefits as doctoral students pursued and attained faculty positions at other PWIs (Grant, 2012). This is significant because graduate school success was linked to mentoring and, to ensure success for Black students, should be centered around their needs.

Other research that investigates mentoring elicit faculty perspectives. Holmes et al. (2007), for instance, studied the influence of mentoring on Black female faculty graduate students and tenured-track faculty. The authors found a workable option for understanding the processes of promotion, and career advancement and options (Holmes et al., 2007). To further understand how Black females advanced their careers in higher education, Johnson-Bailey and Cervero (2004) confirmed that mentoring was effective. They found it to be particularly impactful when mentors helped Black faculty deal with student incidents in the classroom (Johnson-Bailey & Cervero, 2004). These studies demonstrated the importance of openness to exploring viewpoints and perspectives with which not all mentors may be familiar.

There is a preference among Black women to have mentoring relationships that maintain openness and are void of denial and suppression in order to honestly address struggles unique to them (Thomas, 1993). Black women are looking for support both racially and professionally, which in some views, allows Black women to be holistically seen (Thomas, 1993). This means conversations with mentors that offer an open-dialogue about race relations may be able to connect better with Black women (Thomas, 1993).

Research supports that Black females are viewed as invisible in terms of power and voice (Thompson, Dovidio, & West, 2014). Termed intersectional invisibility, the phenomenon is explained as the difficulty people who belong to multiple subordinate groups experience (Black and female) in higher education when compared to single subordinate groups (Haynes et al., 2020; Thompson, Dovidio, & West, 2014). This is important because if society’s default experience is for Black males or White females, it becomes more difficult to recognize and understand experiences unique to Black women, further removing power and voice (Haynes et al., 2020).

Black feminist thought (BFT), a theory coined by Collins in 1986, helps to explain the lived experiences of Black females. It addresses the role Black women take in defining and engaging in their self-definition, the common bond shared by Black women surrounding their lived experiences with racism, sexism, and classism that is unique to themselves, their community, and society, and the significance of the Black female culture (Collins, 1986). It is through this theory that research questions began to explore the lived experiences of Black females in the United States. Understanding how Black females coexist in their social spaces can further clarify how they are often situated in social systems. Articulation of this coexistence can also increase respect for the journey of Black women as they navigate situations and environments that are difficult to explain if not experienced.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Counterspaces: Safe spaces with a high comfort level to speak and act freely with someone who has similar experiences.

Self-Reflection: Looking inward to determine areas for improvement, strengths, and acceptance.

White Females: Women of European descent, who are typically identified by others as White, and who works in the United States.

Intersectionality: Unique experiences of discrimination.

Community Cultural Wealth: The use of knowledge, skills, and abilities that assist with navigating non-majority environments and that are typically practiced by people of color.

Invisibility: The lack of authentic connections and relationships that result in (professional) constraints.

Mentoring Relationship: A close, personal, reciprocal relationship that provides advice, feedback, and support regarding professional or personal issues.

Organizational Culture: Social customs that represent the attitudes, beliefs, practices, and history within a workplace.

Black Females: Women of sub-Saharan African descent, who are typically identified by others as Black, and who works in the United States.

Leadership Positions: Higher levels of leadership (i.e., executive level) that provides direct input to the decision-making process.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: