Latinas in leadership positions in psychology: Obstacles and successes

Nicole Chrysanthi Spanakis (2008)

An evaluation of the leadership literature indicated that the understanding of leadership is based on the traits and performance of Caucasian-American men. The present study examined obstacles and successes that Latina leaders in psychology have encountered in the attainment and maintenance of their leadership roles. By qualitatively analyzing (Hill et al., 2005: Hill, Thomson, & Williams, 1997) interviews from a nation-wide sample of Latina leaders in counseling and clinical psychology ( N = 6), the study uncovered culture specific "emic" information unique to Latinas, which has not been addressed in the leadership literature. The interviews consisted of demographic information and open-ended, qualitative questions. Demographic data identified features of their Latina characteristics, including race, ethnicity, and language skills and inquired about professional development, including leadership positions, institutions of employment, and membership in professional organizations. The open-ended interview questions developed by the author were based on relevant topics in the literature and included: ethnic identity development, acculturation, educational attainment, cultural and familial influences, and networking and mentoring experiences. Positive themes that evolved from the data indicated the facilitation of leadership. These included ethnic and racial identity affiliation, gender identity affiliation, family influences, social harmony promotion, cultural values endorsement, achieved credibility, mentorship, resilience/resistance, self-care, family/work balance, ethnic and feminist networking, advocacy, career satisfaction, one's self-definition of leadership strengths, and others' views of one's leadership strengths. Negative themes, indicating impediments to leadership, included: perfectionism/overcommitment, interpersonal isolation, career frustration, one's self definition of leadership weaknesses, enforced acculturation to organizations, and racism/discrimination. While the literature on Hispanics/Latinos often focuses on their impediments to advancement and on identifying obstacles, the present study identified more themes highlighting the success of Latina leaders than themes on obstacles. The emergence of Latina leaders in psychology suggests that this discipline has developed a work climate and socio-cultural contexts that have made it possible for racial and ethnic minority women to come forward as leaders. The leaders' professional advancements were shaped by their ethnic, racial, and gender contexts. The leadership of these women showed a combination of a passionate advocacy for disciplinary change, supportive ethnic systems, and a professional context ready for change.