College of Business > News & Events > DePaul DBA Research Examines Barriers for Leaders of Color in Higher Education
By Jaclyn Lansbery /
June 9, 2022 /
Posted in: Alumni, Research and Centers /
When Helen Ezenwa enrolled in the
Doctorate in Business Administration program at the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business, she already had an idea of what she wanted to focus on in her dissertation. She wanted to study the career trajectories of individuals from underrepresented communities and the obstacles they face.
During the first year of the three-year program, when DBA candidates begin working with a research advisor to develop a
research project, Ezenwa – who has worked in a variety of industries, from public affairs to higher education – began working with
Grace Lemmon, associate professor and director of the DBA program. Through this process, Ezenwa eventually narrowed down her dissertation topic to studying Black, racialized minorities and Indigenous (BrmI) leaders in higher education and the cost of their success compared to their White counterparts.
In January, Ezenwa submitted and defended her dissertation, “The cost of success for Black, racialized minority, and Indigenous academic leader.”
“The goal of the research is to ensure we have the right support systems in place so that there is less cost to BrmI leaders, and that we prevent the loss of great talent in the higher education space,” says Ezenwa, who also earned her bachelor’s degree from DePaul.
The quantitative study surveyed more than 100 BrmI leaders in higher education about their perception of the cost of success in comparison to their White counterparts. Twenty-six respondents completed the survey. The BrmI leaders reported that their work had greater costs to their family, friendships, community involvement, health, stress, self-care and leisure than their White counterparts.
While researching the topic, Ezenwa found research to support her hypothesis that BrmI leaders pay a higher cost to their interpersonal time than White leaders. According to research from the National Bureau of Economic Research, Black employees received laser-like surveillance from supervisors, which negatively impacted performance reviews and wages, and over time led to larger racial gaps in the workforce.
In her own career, Ezenwa says she has witnessed the obstacles that BrmI leaders, and even students, face in higher education. As the assistant dean for external relations and career management at the Stuart School of Business at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Ezenwa says similar to other schools, there is an opportunity for more attention to be placed in recruiting and retaining underrepresented students.
She also has noticed that employers often lean more on both women and BrmI leaders to mentor and train younger employees in addition to managing their workloads.
“In those requests you’re taking away from what you’re hired to do and it’s not necessarily seen as something that’s acknowledged in your performance as service on your score card,” she says. “As much as this service is needed to support students, when not acknowledged, in addition to the required work, It’s going to impact your promotion, it’s going to impact your pay, and it’s going to impact your growth.”
In March, Ezenwa’s dissertation was highlighted in an
online article published by Harvard Business Publishing. Ahead of Women’s History Month, Ezenwa was approached by the CEO of
Women in BizEd, of which Ezenwa is a member, to share her research. In collaboration with Women in BizEd, Ezenwa interviewed seven women deans of diverse backgrounds about their experiences navigating their careers in academia and the tradeoffs they’ve made for their success.
“One thing that I found in my research, bias bubbled to the surface and impacted individuals from ascending more quickly to leadership roles,” she says. “The women we interviewed also expressed the same experience that bias played into their ascension or a delay in their ascension.”
Ezenwa hopes to continue studying the experiences of BrmI leaders in higher education, and to complete a qualitative study with leaders who hold top positions at universities and colleges – specifically presidents and provosts. Mostly chairs, deans and senior leaders in higher education completed her survey, leaving out a significant portion of top leaders. While analyzing the survey results, she noticed a drop-off in responses when the questions began asking about their experience in attaining success compared to their White counterparts.
“Ultimately, my hope is that institutions use my research to better support students and leaders of color,” Ezenwa says. “What are we doing to ensure we have the right mechanisms in place to ensure student success as we progress in higher ed? If we’re not asking those questions, then I think we may be put in a position where we are doing a disservice to our organizations as well as the leaders in this space.”
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