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Framing the Problem of Barriers to Upward Mobility for African Americans in Parks and Recreation

James D. Worsley, Charlsena F. Stone


Ethnic minorities face a variety of barriers to upward mobility in organizations, such as being marginalized in employment promotions, salary raises, and having limited access to mentors and role models (Stoll, Raphael, & Holzer, 2004). Factors found to limit upward mobility for African Americans in general include stereotypical perceptions held by White managers (Outley & Dean, 2007), lack of organizational fit (Kanter, 1977), less education and training (Philpott, 2000), lower ratings on job evaluations (Greenhaus, Parasuraman, & Wormley, 1993), and lower expectations when Whites regard their presence in leadership positions due to affirmative action quotas (Heilman, Block, & Lucas, 1992). While research is limited regarding the influence of upward mobility for African Americans in parks and recreation, barriers have been found, such as gender (Bedini & Anderson, 2003), number of years of related work experience (Outley & Dean, 2007), education (Philpott, 2000), presence of affirmative action plans (Heilman, Block, & Lucas, 1992), race of the appointing authority (James, 2000), and job satisfaction (Waller, 1989). Drawing on the theories of homosocial reproduction (Kanter, 1977), human capital (Becker, 1975), and social capital (Coleman, 1986), this study examines upward mobility of African Americans leaders in a park and recreation agency. The findings from qualitative interviews of 10 African American leaders suggest the existence of inconsistencies and barriers with hiring and promotion practices. African American parks and recreation leaders may lack adequate or competitive human capital when seeking advancement opportunities, and possess limited social capital often accessible through mentor/protégé relationships. Parks and recreation organizations must focus on intentionally assessing, developing, and evaluating policies and practices that guard against homosocial reproduction and other forms of discrimination in order to increase ethnic minority presence in leadership positions.


Upward mobility; homosocial reproduction; human capital; social capital

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