The Road Less Traveled: The Path to Executive Leadership in Higher Education for Black Women

Date of Award


Degree Name

Ed.D. in Leadership for Organizations


Department of Educational Administration


Matthew Witenstein


Black women make-up a large percentage of the workforce in higher education, specifically in administrative roles. Yet, while they enter higher education workspaces starting at entry-level and mid-manager positions, their numbers diminish significantly at executive levels. This imbalance between Black, female administrators in entry-level/mid-manager positions and executive roles points to a clear gap in existing resources, strategies and models for leadership development for this group. The purpose of this dissertation is to explore the Funds of Knowledge that Black women use to navigate their careers as administrators in Commuter College and to create a guide for building a professional mentoring program at the college. Using critical participatory action research methods, six Black women from both senior and entry-level roles, participated in a semi-structured focus group called a Leadership Development Collective. The women, who served in various administrative functions of the college, used their experiences with navigating their professional success to collaboratively build a model for professional mentoring for all Black women at the institution. Using qualitative analysis methods, the Leadership Development Collective was assessed. The results of the first phase of the Leadership Development Collective indicated that Black women utilized Funds of Knowledge which can be categorized into five general themes: education, family matriarch, biculturalism, their sense of community and their resilience. These themes can also be seen as working in tandem to influence the women’s sense of resilience. Using these Funds of Knowledge, the group collaboratively created a model for professional mentoring at the college that can be expanded to include a larger number of similar participants. The guide included recommended timelines, actions steps and activities that were to be integrated into the mentorship program. This study has essential implications for future practice and research. Commuter college and other higher education institutions should develop mentoring initiatives that build community and encourage professional growth of Black women. A key part of this work, however, is ensuring that power is shared within the group and as such, Black women who are at either end of the organizational hierarchy can share in the development and success of the initiatives. The findings of this study also demonstrate that there is a tremendous need for continued exploration of the Funds of Knowledge that Black women use to navigate their careers and more broadly, other asset-based approaches to discussing these topics.


Black women, leadership, Higher Education, Funds of Knowledge, mentorship

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