Mentoring Away the Glass Ceiling

by Dr. Brenda Marina

Excerpted from “Finding Our Voice: Are We Reacting or Adapting to the Globalization of the Glass”. For the full paper go to

Dr. Brenda Marina,  Associate Professor Georgia Southern University Statesboro, GA, USA

Dr. Brenda Marina,
Georgia Southern University
Statesboro, GA, USA

Although women have made significant gains in many sectors of the labor market in recent decades, many suggest that the “glass ceiling” effect is alive and well in the academia.

Higher education institutions are viewed as a microcosm of society, reflecting the larger world in which we live (Burke, Cropper, & Harrison, 2000; Zamani, 2003). Institutions that promote equal access to education have failed to diversify their own senior administrative structures to reflect the changing face of a global society by creating a more diverse workforce representative of the entire student body population (Crawford & Smith, 2005).  A 2009 U.S. News and World Report article noted that over a 20-year period, persons of color have a lesser chance of obtaining the upper echelon in any field of choice as compared to their equivalent white counterparts.

There is little debate that the number of women administrators has increased over the past twenty years; however, African American women have not made a steady advancements in higher education. There is a gross underrepresentation of women of color, particularly African American women, holding senior administrative positions in higher education (Crawford & Smith, 2005; Patitu & Hinton, 2003). Consequently, it has been documented that African American women experience organizational barriers related to both gender and race (Williams, 1989, p. 100; Mabokela & Green, 2001; Crocco & Waite, 2007).  Additionally, African American women are more underrepresented in leadership positions than any other group, especially in positions that lead to university presidential appointments (Crawford & Smith, 2005).

For the most part, predominantly White higher education institutions have not been very successful in recruiting and retaining African American faculty, women or men (Patitu & Hinton, 2003).  The number of African American women on campuses is extremely instrumental for the success and retention of black women; students, faculty, and staff. The success of black students who attend predominantly white universities is greatly influenced by the mere visibility of African American faculty and administrators, and relationships with faculty and administrators encourage African American students’ retention (Hughes & Howard-Hamilton, 2003).  When African American and other faculty of color are seen on campus by students of color, they also believe that they can succeed and hold such professional positions.  Educational attainment has been progressive for African American female students, while the lack of African American women faculty and administrators still conveys a saddening message for academe’s inability to hire, retain, and advance leaders of diverse backgrounds.

The Impact of Mentoring

In academia, mentors have served as advocates, provided positive reinforcement, given constructive criticism, assisted with understanding the unwritten rules of an institution, and helped with negotiating the confidence levels needed to be successful (Nichols & Tanksley, 2004).  Mentoring has been identified as a major factor for upward mobility in employment, success in education, and personal development (Crawford & Smith, 2005). The benefits of mentoring has also been linked to job satisfaction, increased pay, and career advancement as well as positive psychosocial benefits (Patton, 2009).  Overwhelming, the effects of mentoring has been positively correlated with successful outcomes in higher education advancement for African American women (Marina & Robinson, 2011).  Forming mentoring relationships has been noted as one of the most critical factors in helping African American women achieve their career goals in higher education administration (Nichols & Tanksley, 2004). Consequently, research has revealed that African Americans are less likely to experience support or helpful mentoring relationships than their White counterparts with senior colleagues (Mabokela & Green, 2001; Patton, 2009).

Concluding Thoughts

Higher education institutions that recognize the importance of formal and informal mentoring can give support to the recruitment and retention of faculty, staff and students of color (Holloman, 2010).  While there is limited research on obstacles that African American women face in acquiring leadership roles, such as the “glass ceiling and gender and race discrimination”, fewer studies have investigated the institutional contributors which produce barriers to advancement (Jackson & Harris, 2007).  It is imperative that administrators and educators in academia take into account how both race and gender can perpetuate inequities and consider how mentoring can chip away at the glass ceiling.


Burke, B., Cropper, A., & Harrison, P. (2000). Real or imagined-Black women’s experiences in the academy. Community, Work & Family, 3(3), 297-310.

Crawford, K., & Smith, D. (2005). The we and the us: Mentoring African American women. Journal of Black Studies, 36(1), 52-67.

Crocco, M. S., & Waite, C. L. (2007). Education and marginality: Race and gender in higher education, 1940-1955. History of Education Quarterly, 47(1), 69-91.

Holloman, D. (2010). On the battlefield: The influence of the mentoring process on faculty of color . Georgia Journal.

Hughes, R. L., & Howard-Hamilton, M. F. (2003). Insights: Emphasizing issues that affect African American women. New Directions for Student Services, (104), 95-104.

Jackson, S., & Harris, S. (2007). African American female college and university presidents: experiences and perceptions of barriers to the presidency. Journal of Women in Educational Leadership, 5(2), 119-137.

Marina, B. L. H., & Robinson, K. (2011). Finding our voice: Are we reacting or adapting to the globalization of the glass ceiling? Symposium: Finding Our (Grass) Roots: Activism, Theory, and the Future of Feminism, Women & Genders Studies Program, Augusta State. Retrieved from

Mabokela, R. O., & Green, A. L. (2001). Sisters of the academy: Emergent Black women scholars in higher education. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Nichols, J. C., & Tanksley, C. B. (2004). Revelations of African-American women with terminal degrees: Overcoming obstacles to success. The Negro Educational Review, 55(4), 175-185.

Patitu, C.L., & Hinton, K.G. (2003). The experiences of African American women faculty and administrators in higher education: Has anything changed? New Directions for Student Services, (104), 79-93.

Patton, L. D. (2009). My sister’s keeper: A qualitative examination of mentoring experiences among African American women in graduate and professional schools. The Journal of Higher Education, 80(5), 510-537.

Williams, A. (1989). Research on Black women college administrators: Descriptive and interview data. Sex Roles, 21(1/2), 99-112.

Zamani, E. M. (2003). African American women in higher education. New Directions for Student Services, (104), 5-18.

About the Author: Brenda Marina

Dr. Marina is an associate professor for educational leadership and the director for the higher education programs at the College of Education, Georgia Southern University. Her research interests include leadership through mentoring, women in leadership, multicultural competence in higher education, and global education issues.Dr. Marina holds professional affiliations at the state, national, and international levels and serves as a speaker and presenter for issues related to her research. She is a member of the IMA board of directors.