Navigating Power and Politics: Women of Color Senior Leaders in Academe
Huang, Belinda Jung-Lee
Fries-Britt, Sharon L.
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The purpose of this study was to understand how women of color who are at the senior level of academe continue to advance while navigating and maneuvering through power and politics encountered in the organizational system. Although we know that there are few women of color at the senior level of administration, this qualitative study provided information about the challenges and obstacles women of color senior level leaders face at micro- and macro-levels in a doctoral granting or baccalaureate granting university. The major research question guiding this study was: How do women of color navigate power and politics to arrive at the senior level in academe? The research design was nine individual case studies of women of color at nine institutions: three African Americans, two Asian American Pacific Islanders, two Latinas, and two American Indian women at doctoral granting and baccalaureate granting universities. Five women were senior leaders at minority serving institutions; seven were presidents, one was a provost, and one was a vice-provost. Three participants came from historically Black colleges and universities, one woman held a position at a Tribal college, and one worked at a Hispanic serving institution. Drawing upon five theoretical frameworks, four themes emerged that were grounded in the data: 1) Advancing Women Through Opportunity and Experience; 2) Challenges of Race and Gender: Inviting Partnership with Community; 3) Inclusive and Persuasive Leaders: Creating Positive Change; 4) Using Power and Politics to Achieve Goals. Participants saw power as the ability to bring people together and to use a strategy to achieve one's objectives. They defined power as the privilege one has because of social identity or as something that was borrowed or loaned. Women of color leaders described using politics for the community, to reap benefits, not for oneself but to achieve a broader goal. Participants maneuvered through the system by finding allies, and enlisting people to intervene on their behalf. Women of color senior leaders saw politics as a means to get things done and to emerge with a win-win situation.