A Narrative Study on the Role of Mentorship in the Career Trajectory of African American Women Superintendents and Those Aspiring Towards the Superintendency



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Background: Women of color represent 15% of the nation’s teachers, 13% of the nation’s principals, but only eight percent of the nation’s superintendents. The absence of women of color at the superintendent level is not a result of the scarcity in the talent pool but a result of the systematic, structural divide that exists in the education system. Problem: As a single group, Black women are almost nonexistent in the role of superintendent in public school districts. Lack of mentorship has been noted as one reason why so few Black women have achieved the job of superintendent. Purpose: The purpose of the study was to examine the influence of mentorship for African American women superintendents and African American women who aspire towards the superintendency. RQ 1: What difference does mentoring play in the experiences of African American women leaders who aspire towards the position and for those serving in the superintendency? RQ 2: What difference does mentoring make on the self-defining knowledge claims of African American women as they navigate race, gender, and class oppressions within their aspirations to the superintendency and career trajectories? Methods: Through this qualitative research study, I used an in-depth narrative inquiry approach to understand the experiences of mentoring for African American women superintendents and those aspiring towards the position. I utilized qualitative semi-structured interviews as well as a focus group and document analysis. I recruited eight participants for the study. These participants included sitting superintendents and central office administrators aspiring to the superintendency. I utilized the narrative thematic analysis process to make meaning of the data collected. The data was coded to find emergent themes that were interpreted for meaning. Findings: Black Feminist Thought, is the conceptual framework that undergirded the study. The findings were in line with the extant literature on mentoring for Black women leaders in education. The collective narratives emphasized the paradoxical space of them being both a woman and a Black woman in educational leadership. The analysis of the narratives assert that mentoring was beneficial and a necessity to their ascension towards the superintendency. While mentoring proved to be beneficial, sponsorship deemed to move them through the pipeline to the superintendency. Being grounded in their faith and reliance on supportive networks were essential to them thriving in the role. For those participants that experienced successful mentoring relationships they congruently experienced a swifter career trajectory. As Black women climbing the career ladder in a White male dominated field, they individually expressed that it was equally important for them to lead as their authentic self, acknowledging the intersections of their identities. Conclusion: Albeit, there is a sparse number of African American women superintendents represented in K-12 schools, the participants managed to engage in formal and informal networks of support that nurtured them with the professional and social counterspace to share their experiences. Further for Black women, leading from a place of authenticity provided a safe space for them to engage and make connections within their communities.



African American Woman, Black Feminist Thought, Career Trajectory, Intersectionality, Mentorship, Narrative Inquiry, Sponsorship, Superintendent