Discussing Pathways to Success for Black Women Academics
‘South Africa like many nations faces an urgent need to revitalise the academy as a result of an aging professoriate and shortages in academic staff,’ said inspirational international speaker, Dr Pamela Roy, at an Interactive public lecture at UKZN.
Organised by the College of Health Sciences’ Women in Leadership and Leverage Committee (WILL), the lecture attracted male and female academics from various disciplines, including Deans and Heads of Departments, who also shared their views and experiences in academia during the discussion phase of Roy’s talk titled: New Understandings of ‘Success’ in Academe: Narratives from Black Women Academics’ Lives and Careers in Post-apartheid South Africa.
The Lecture was based on Roy’s dissertation research which used a qualitative, interview-based, phenomenological approach to explore, describe and analyse the factors that shaped the careers and lives of 28 black women academics at two South African universities.
According to Roy, who serves as a consultant for the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Programme and as the Director of Assessment and Learning of Golden Future – a Canadian-based charitable organization serving the Khayelitsha community near Cape Town, the inclusion of more women academics and academics of colour in particular is critical to ensuring that a full range of perspectives and experiences are represented in academe.
A visionary and creative leader, with expertise on the global professoriate, gender and economic empowerment, and educational success of learners in international contexts, Roy said: ‘South Africa is a nation that is striving for equity, inclusion and equality among its citizenship as it attempts to redress the legacies of colonial history and apartheid.’
Roy said she believed the nation could achieve its goal of meeting the equity targets set by the national government and higher education institutions toward historical redress, reconciliation and transformation.
The findings of Roy’s study suggest that, in post-apartheid South Africa, black women academics’ lives and careers are best understood across four broad domains of influence: context, community, commitment, and competence. Each of the academics’ careers was found to be deeply embedded in her life, connected to her inner commitments and competencies, and influenced by the multiple contexts and communities to which she belonged. The interactions and interrelationships between these domains of influence were reportedly complex, nuanced and dynamic as they influenced the vibrant nature of these academics’ lives and careers.
The study found that participants were influenced by apartheid policies that enforced racial segregation and prescribed racial inferiority of all non-White individuals. Systemic racism in schooling, reinforced by family and community in some cases, likely resulted in several academics’ internalized racism. Positive influence of school educators during their childhood influenced these academics career choices.
Personal and professional communities were central to the majority of these academics’ work and lives, according to the study. These academics spoke about positive and negative experiences with people in their communities, and the challenge in juggling elements of their lives that competed for their time and energy.
‘Exerting individual and relational agency, possessing positive self-efficacy and exhibiting resiliency were paramount in overcoming and/or managing impediments that stood in the pathway toward the participants’ successes,’ said Roy. ‘Assisting with the transformation agenda of their institutions and the development of the new South Africa was also central to the ideological values of most academics in this study.’
The study also found that spirituality was a major influence on how some of the academics created and sustained their careers. Furthermore, their scholarly work had the potential to span across local and global arenas and to serve as the main engine for generating knowledge that contributes to national development.
Roy said: ‘Black women academics in post-apartheid South Africa are one example of how talented academics create and sustain successful and meaningful careers in ways that honour their work and personal lives.’
The study has implications for several stakeholders, such as university leadership, government and policy makers, as well as academics – from those entering the academy to those on the cusp of retirement.
University leaders were encouraged to continue creating collegial and supportive work environments to support black women’s success, and continue to offer programmes and resources to support their growth and development as academics.
Academics were encouraged to ask themselves what success means to them, evaluate their support structures, opportunities for professional growth and development, time management, and to work actively with their mentors.
Late-Career and retired academics could also play a critical role by keeping connections with junior colleagues and continuing to contribute to knowledge production, such as through scholarly publications.
Government and policymakers needed to be cognisant that optimising performance for academic women requires support for all aspects of their lives, including their personal responsibilities, Roy said.
WILL Chair and Convenor for the workshop, Professor Thirumala Govender, said: ‘Dr Roy’s presentation is perfectly timed as WILL will be embarking on workshops this year to specifically assist women in improving their promotion eligibility in academia. The results from her study are extremely useful as they highlight both the specific personal and professional factors that need to be considered to facilitate upward mobility in the academy as well as considerations for what success “looks like” for those who may not be interested in promotion through title and rank.’
For a copy of Roy’s published dissertation, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.