An Exploration of the Impostor Phenomenon and its Impact on Black Women Administrators in Higher Education in the South

Marian Muldrow, Georgia Southern University


Numerous studies document Black student and faculty underrepresentation in higher education and the obstacles blocking their access to the classroom either as students or as instructors. As Black women students work toward graduate degrees, Black women administrators are needed so these students can see their identity reflected in their academic leaders.

As a result, this study focused on the particular challenges that limit upward mobility to senior-level administrative positions and highlighted some of the obstacles and conflicts that arise when Black women pursue leadership positions at institutions of higher education. The highlighted historical events related to education, as well as factors, such as negative self-talk and over preparation, are attributable to the impostor phenomenon, which can occur when individuals who have earned degrees and academic honors feel no internal success. The impostor phenomenon also refers to high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and who live with a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. The manifestation of the impostor phenomenon can cause individuals to let the workplace and other personal commitments cloud their judgment of their ability, which can further push them into outsider positions. However, in this study, the impostor phenomenon was not prominent among Black women in higher education administrative positions. While the women did exhibit steps in the impostor phenomenon cycle, they did not find those steps to be a hindrance in the workplace.

This study focused on Black women in entry-level, middle-level, and senior-level leadership positions at colleges and universities in the southern part of the United States. The theoretical framework that informed the study was Black feminist thought. For this qualitative analysis, a narrative inquiry was used to conduct interviews with Black women administrators in the South. During the open-ended semi-structured interviews, participants were asked to describe their experiences in higher education. The study highlighted the experiences of the participants to educate administrators, faculty, and staff about the perceptions of Black women in the higher education workplace.