Tapestry: Journal of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging in Education

Document Type



This qualitative case study described the lived experiences of 11 African American women regarding the barriers that they faced on their journeys to obtaining executive leadership positions at historically black colleges and universities and universities (HBCUs). Five of the African American women served in their positions at predominantly white universities (PWIs) in addition to HBCUs. The purpose of the study was to describe the perceptions of African American women regarding steps they have practiced continuing their path to notable success in higher education leadership. We described the behaviors and practices of these African American women leaders and how they engage at institutions of higher education to overcome barriers, acquire advancement and promotion, and achieve and excel in executive-level careers. In this approach, interviewing virtually or in person and describing the perceptions of African American women leaders at universities in the United States in the southeastern region may be beneficial to other women of color in developing a rite of passage or create a guidebook of procedures on what it takes in the 21st century to become an executive administrator and influential leader in higher education.

Numerous researchers and studies support that African American women leaders in higher education are at the bottom of the hierarchy regarding leadership positions. African American women continue to become more educated each year, with graduation rates for master’s and doctoral degrees higher than African American men and just as many as Caucasian women and men. African American women endure the most challenging race and gender suppression in administrative and faculty appointments, often given to their counterparts who may not be as qualified or educated. There is limited data on the competency that an African American woman must secure to excel in a leadership position in higher education. The reactions of an African American woman’s behavior, mannerisms, and ethical characteristics were discussed and identified, which may contribute to the discovery of how to become a successful leader in a field where there has always been a challenge to “break the glass ceiling.”