Professionals in positions to hire or
promote Hispanic women need to be educated on the effects of "tokenism"
and Hispanic women need support to help them deal with its effects.
Affirmative action is an intensely controversial concept (Kaplin &
Lee, 1995) and one that is receiving a great deal of attention from
scholars, news reporters and judges. Affirmative action is the result
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of this act prohibits discrimination
on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, or national origin. Title
VII allows for the use of affirmative action to redress the effects
of past discrimination, but affirmative action plans are mandatory
only for federal agencies and contractors. According to Kaplin and
Lee, the dual aims of the federal government's anti-discrimination
initiatives are: 1) "to bar like discrimination in the future"
2) "to eliminate the discriminatory effects of the past"
(p. 254). Public outcry occurs when employer policies respond to a
statistical "under representation" that gives preference
to women and minorities, thus resulting in "reverse discrimination"
Most recently, three significant events brought public scrutiny
and/or criticism to the implementation of affirmative action policies.
In 1995 the first Republican Congress in over 40 years took control
of the legislative branch of government. Members of this congress
articulated strong disapproval of government set-aside or preferential
affirmative action programs. In 1996, the fifth circuit court district
ruled that race could not be used as a factor in admissions decisions
for the University of Texas Law School, and consequently, for any
institution under that court's jurisdiction (Hopwood v State of
Texas). Then, in 1996, California voters passed Proposition 209
which banned the use of racial and gender preferences in admissions
decisions for higher educational institutions in California.
Scholars (Marshall, 1993; Szockyj & Fox 1996; Miller, 1986)
recognize that affirmative action is most influential in helping
women and minorities enter occupations in which:
1) men are not threatened and/or organized
2) the job has become less attractive to men
3) cost is a dominant factor (lower salaries)
4) the positions are low-level and dead-end
According to Marshall (1993) affirmative action has little or no
enforcement power. She stated that, "district policymakers
and gatekeepers in the career are not concerned with special issues
faced by minorities and women" (p. 173).
The purpose for conducting this qualitative multicase study was
to understand four Hispanic women leaders' perceptions of affirmative
action policies on their careers. All four of the women interviewed
identified affirmative action as having an effect on their lives
To conduct this study, we utilized the multicase study design.
Case study design is flexible and adaptable to a wide range of contexts
and people and provides some of the most useful educational research
methods. Voiced processes or themes by persons in a particular situation
provide detailed descriptions and analysis (McMillian & Schumacher,
1993). Using the multicase study design, we describe the participant's
career progressions and their perceptions of the impact of affirmative
action policies. We used multicase study to explore common themes
that occurred within the leadership experiences of women in diverse
professional fields. According to Bogdan and Biklen (1992), multicase
studies of two or more subjects in a setting will address generalizability.
In qualitative research, the researcher interacts directly with
participants and becomes the primary instrument for data analysis
and collection. The researcher must state the role she will be assuming
for data collection and build trust by making it clear that she
will not use information gained to harm or demean people (Bodgan
& Biklen, 1992). The researcher role in this study was primarily
that of interviewer and observer. Because "the primary instrument
in qualitative case study research is human, all observations and
analysis are filtered through ones' world view, ones' values, ones'
perspective" (Merriam, 1998 pg. 39).
Difficulty may arise for non-members of an ethnic group to study
that culture. This difference might cause bias by influencing the
research to ask different questions than might be asked by a member
of that ethnic group. In addition, participants may offer different
answers to members outside their ethnic group (Zinn, 1979). One
way of addressing this is by "boundary spanning." Goetz
and LeCompte (1984) describe boundary spanning as the ability to
communicate within and across cultural groups as a result of familiarity
with the beliefs, goals, and behaviors of the particular group.
Personal lifetime experiences influenced our interest and perceptions
of the Hispanic culture. One researcher lived and worked among the
Hispanic population for the past forty years.
The researchers experiences as white females in leadership positions
created some bias in that we saw racism, discrimination, prejudice,
and sexism against both Anglo and Hispanic women. We approach with
study with a belief in the basic principles of feminism. These experiences
and beliefs heightened our awareness of the personal and professional
challenges and frustrations confronted by women daily. It is our
belief that these challenges become exacerbated when facing them
as an Hispanic woman. As the study progressed, we made every effort
to recognize and control these biases.
The technique used to select the four participants included purposeful
sampling, including the technique of "snowballing." Participants
included Hispanic females with at least five years of administrative
or leadership experience. Selected women held leadership positions
in education, politics, and business. We chose one participant on
the basis of personal knowledge of her present position as one of
only two female Hispanic public school superintendents in the southwestern
state where this study took place. We used the technique of snowballing
to select two additional participants. As described by Berg (1993),
this technique is "using people whom the original guide(s)
introduces to the ethnographer as persons who can also vouch for
the legitimacy and safety of the research" (p. 95). In this
case, the original guide was a high ranking political figure who
participated in a pilot study conduced in the fall of 1996. The
two women selected served in positions as a judge and as the State
Corporation Commissioner. The researchers selected the remaining
participant from the corporate world. We spoke with the Human Resources
Director of several of the largest public held businesses in the
state and asked for recommendations.
The primary means of data collection consisted of interviews. We
developed open-ended questions, and used interviews to collect data
that provided insight into the women's perceptions of the impact
of affirmative action on their careers. This interviewing process,
or "conversation with a purpose" is one of the oldest
and most respected tools of inquiry (Guba & Lincoln, 1981).
Guba and Lincoln further contend that interviewing, "particularly
the unstructured interview--is the backbone of field and naturalistic
research and evaluation" (p. 154). Interviews were audio recorded
and the tapes were transcribed verbatim. Other means of collecting
data included a thorough examination of magazine and newspaper articles,
speech transcripts, meeting minutes, court hearings (in the case
of the judge), and memoranda. Data analysis occurred simultaneously
with data collection. Following is a description of the women leaders
and their perceptions of the impact of affirmative action policies
on their career progressions.
Sandra Martinez - Sandra is of Puerto Rican, Cuban and New
Mexican Hispanic decent. She was the first woman elected to the
position of State Corporation Commissioner. Sandra was running for
governor, but recently withdrew from the race when she accepted
a presidential appointment to Washington, D.C.
Martha Moreno - Martha is the daughter of Mexican migrant
farm workers. She is the first female judge appointed to her position
in the history of the state.
Lucille Sanchez - Lucille taught high school Spanish for
twenty-two years before appointment to her current position as a
public school superintendent. She also served as a state representative.
Rosa Astorga - Rosa is in upper level management at a southwest
utility company. She is the daughter of Mexican migrant farm workers.
The four women described their opinions, as well as negative and
positive experiences as a result of affirmative action polices.
Personally and politically, Sandra spoke of discrimination and affirmative
action as her "burning passion." She said:
I care very, very much about discrimination, and about giving minorities
opportunities to do better. I care so passionately about this that
I'm probably not politically correct in my thinking, because I still
believe very strongly in affirmative action. And I'm not afraid
to speak out about it. Now, people could say, "Well, it's not
so brave, because in this state, you'll find a lot of people that
agree with you." And I say, "Sure, it's not so brave,
but I don't see everybody speaking out about it!"
Sandra talked about affirmative action as a way of making reparation,
"because we've treated Hispanics so badly."
Lucille, a public school superintendent and ex-state representative,
talked about how affirmative action policies helped her get elected.
Probably being elected into office (was an opportunity because
of my ethnicity). There was a community group that filed suit against
the legislature back in '80 because the legislative districts had
been gerrymandered to elect whites. We won the suit and because
that suit was won, a new legislative district was cut specifically
to elect an Hispanic person. It was because of that that I was fortunate
to get into office.
Personally, I believe you shouldn't look at a person because of
their ethnic background, but because of what they can do. You know,
it doesn't matter if that person is Black or Chinese, or whatever.
If that person can do the job, then that's the person that's best
for that position. There have been times when I was given specific
work assignments because I am Hispanic. I found that to be very
Martha believed that she received her judicial appointment because
of her gender and ethnicity. She said:
I think, quite clearly when this position came open, I think people,
the public, was talking a lot about wanting an Hispanic and wanting
an Hispanic woman. I think that's the kind of thing that makes all
our leaders; our senators, our president, our congressmen say, "Yeah,
you know, that's right. We don't have one, maybe we should consider
one. Maybe we should look to see who is available, who is out there."
And I know, certainly, that that was done around the time that this
position became open.
Martha addresses discrimination and affirmative action when she
speaks to young people. The advice she gave to Hispanic high school
students in one of her speeches included the following:
You can do one of two things. When you are in a situation where
people assume you're stupid, assume you're lazy, assume you can
do nothing, assume that you've been given special benefits because
you're Hispanic and not because you are anything, you can give up
and say, "Screw 'em." Or you can prove them wrong. You
know, it's just completely up to you. You can say, "I am not
stupid, I am very capable." You can do it, or you can just
let them win.
Rosa is a chemical engineer with a Masters degree in Business Administration.
She presently holds an upper management position in a very large
southwest utility company. Rosa discovered the negative effects
of affirmative action when she received a promotion several years
ago. Rosa told this story:
I applied for manager of transportation, which was a very high
level manager's position. I got the job. It turned out to be a curse,
a horrible experience, because coincidentally, just within a few
days, there was a (discrimination) lawsuit filed against the company.
The people involved in the lawsuit, employees, belonged to an Hispanic
Employee Association and one of them was the president. I had close
ties with him because I was a personal friend and I was also a member
of the Association. So when I got the job, there was an immediate
link made by employees that I got it because I was an Hispanic female
and there was a quota, and it was affirmative action. I was devastated
that people would say that. I was angry, I was hurt, and I cried.
I went into my office and I sobbed.
The negative effects of this "token" appointment lasted
several years. Rosa explained:
She (one of the people working for me) put out the word that I
got the job because I was an Hispanic female. It kind of became
'common knowledge' that that was why I had the job. So, it was communicated
to the other members of the department that I was to take over.
I couldn't gain the authority that I needed. I couldn't ask people
to do things without there being this other inner play; this idea
of being at their mercy. You know, I don't know the business, so
I don't have the right to question their work or change their work
or to do anything like that, which is expected of a manager.
Rosa did not make any changes for the first year. When she began
to feel secure in her position, and did try to make changes, her
staff turned against her, using her gender and ethnicity against
her. Rosa said:
What happened is, these people went to their network and anybody
who had ever had any small tiff or irritation suddenly was asked
to come forward and to say that I had no leadership skills, no personal
skills, and plus, I didn't deserve to have that job because I was
an Hispanic female, that was the only reason. There were all those
games being played all the time, just resist the manager, don't
take direction, throw up obstacles. That sort of passive-aggressive
thing. I've been dealing with that from the very beginning. I was
crippled as a manager. I never got management support.
Rosa talked about her need to prove everyone wrong, and how this
resulted in long working hours. She also talked about the effect
this had on her family and health. She said:
I felt that I was guilty until proven innocent. I had worked eighty
hours a week, constantly for month, and months, and months. If I
put in a sixty-hour week, I was cruising; I was on vacation that
week. None of that mattered. It carried no weight. It meant absolutely
nothing. Still, I was guilty until proven innocent. I felt that
maybe, in a way, I had worked myself into that position because
I had given away too much. I self- sacrificed. I gave away a tremendous
amount of power, because I wanted to prove that I could do the job,
that I was as good as anybody, and that it didn't matter what challenge
you threw my way, I could handle it.
Rosa also spoke about the inappropriate instances when the issues
of her gender and ethnicity came up in management meetings. In one
instance, Rosa held a meeting with a non-performing employee and
her supervisor. Rosa described the meeting this way:
We were in this meeting and my boss says, "Well, you know,
I don't know what it's like to be an Hispanic female. I'm sure that
there must be a lot you have to deal with. But, OK, let's talk about
the problem." And I thought, "First you reduced this performance
problem that I'm bringing to you; to the fact that I'm a woman.
The other problem is that I'm Hispanic. Not that we have a performance
Although Rosa suffered through some difficult situations as a result
of this appointment, she said she would not change anything. She
also talked about the positive appointments she received as the
first Hispanic and first woman to chair a very important company
committee, and as a special trainee to the company's president.
All four of the women interviewed identified affirmative action
as having an effect on their careers. Three of the four respondents
attribute at least one of their successes to affirmative action.
Anti-discrimination laws are an important means of "leveling
the playing field" (Szockyj and Fox, 1996). Of the four women
effected by affirmative action, Rosa spoke of the "hellish"
time she experienced after receiving a promotion as a result of
affirmative action. Rosa's story is common among women and minority
persons when they are one-of-a-kind. According to Szockyj and Fox
(1996), "tokenism is both cruel and unproductive when integration
is the long-term goal" (p. 154). Rosa's story supports this
statement. Although she had a difficult time with peers and with
her own personal need to "prove" she could do the job,
her appointment did serve to promote her career.
Affirmative action policy aided Lucille to become an elected state
official after the state established a new legislative district
to insure an Hispanic representative. Rosa applied for a managerial
position at the same time another division of the company faced
an affirmative action lawsuit. Martha received appointment to her
position during a time of public concern regarding no female or
Hispanic representation in the judiciary.
Anti-discrimination laws are important because, according to Szockyj
and Fox, "once inequality has become established, it is difficult
for the system to right itself" (p. 143). These authors state
that, following the passage of the Civil Rights Act and its amendments,
the rapid movement of women into predominately male professions
indicated that artificial barriers, rather than choice or aptitude,
kept women and minorities out of the labor market. Although a great
deal of debate exists regarding the positive or negative effects
of affirmative action in this country, clearly, it did serve to
help three of the four women in this study in their career progressions.
Hispanic women continue to face discrimination and unequal treatment
in their career progressions. Women and minorities need the opportunities
affirmative action policies provide in order to prove their capabilities.
The negative effects of "tokenism" need to be addressed.
Professionals in positions to hire or promote Hispanic women need
to be educated on the effects of "tokenism" and Hispanic
women need support to help them deal with its effects. Additional
research must be conducted to determine the effects of affirmative
action on Hispanic females, especially in light of the move to eliminate
affirmative action policies.
Berg, K.H. (1993). Leadership styles and personality types of Minnesota
school superintendents. Dissertation Abstracts International,
Bogdan, R., & Biklen, S. (1992). Qualitative research for
education: An introduction to theory and methods. Boston: Allyn
Goetz, J.P., & LeCompte, M.D. (1984). Ethnography and qualitative
design in educational research. Orlando, FL: D.C. Heath &
Guba, E., & Lincoln, Y. (1981). Effective evaluation.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Kaplin, W., & Lee, B. (1995). The law of higher education.
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Marshall, C. (1993). The new politics of race and gender: The
1992 yearbook of the politics of education association. Washington,
D.C.: The Falmer Press.
McMillian, J.H. & Schumacher, S. (1993). Research in education:
A conceptual introduction. New York: Harper Collins.
Merriam, S.B. (1988). Case study research in education: A qualitative
approach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Miller, J. B. (1986). Toward a new psychology of women.
Boston: Beacon Press.
Szockyj, E., & Fox, J. G. (1996). Corporate victimization
of women. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
Zinn, R. (1979). Argentina, a nation at the crossroads of myth
and reality. New York: R. Speller.
Dr. Kaye Peery is the founder of the Enchanted
Circle Women's Institute
Dr. Marilyn Grady teaches in the Department of
Educational Administration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
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