The Presidential Read
Introduction to the Presidential Read
Discussions and open dialogue about common experiences and controversial ideas – that is what Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College President Dottie King, Ph.D., hopes to initiate with “The Presidential Read.” As a new program this year, “The Presidential Read” is designed to promote continued learning and leadership by encouraging current students to engage in an educational opportunity outside of the typical classroom environment. Faculty, staff, alums and friends are invited to participate in the conversation as well. King chose “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg as the inaugural book for “The Presidential Read.” A #1 national best-seller, “Lean In” explores topics on women, work and the will to lead, making it very relevant to SMWC as a women’s college.
We encourage our alums and friends of the College to participate. New chapter reflections will be posted each week. Starting in January of 2014, book discussions will be hosted. Read more
Posted: Nov. 22, 2013
Introduction - Chapter 1
Being a female leader, the president of a women’s college and the mother of two daughters, I was immediately intrigued when I watched a morning news segment highlighting Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead.” The book received mixed reviews and a fair amount of criticism because of its assertion that women are partially responsible for their failure to advance into leadership roles. I thought about how great it would be to engage the students of our women’s program in a robust dialogue about the concepts presented in the book, and the idea for “The Presidential Read” was born!
As I began reading the book, I knew that the dialogue should be much more inclusive, involving faculty, staff, alums and friends of the College. The statistics provided in the introduction represent a sobering reality and make our mission at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College so very relevant. I found myself wondering if we have become more complacent and satisfied with status quo than the pioneering women who fought for the access and rights that we enjoy. Clearly, we have a long way to go before there is equality in leadership. When I read the sentence containing information about the 2011 McKinsey report noting that men are promoted based on their potential while women’s advancement depends upon past achievements, I really wanted to know more about that report!
How do you feel about the assertion that women lack self-confidence and that they pull back when they should be leaning in? I think that this has been true of me many times … especially in the early part of my career. Acknowledging your own experiences, vulnerabilities and personality can lead to empowerment. What are your professional aspirations? Remember to Aspire Higher every day! I hope that men are joining us in this activity. It is so critical for you to gain perspective on the female experience and reality. We need one another!
The Leadership Ambition Gap
What is your family story? I hope this book inspires you to take an honest look back at your upbringing and the people who have influenced your self-confidence, personality, dreams and goals. While reading about Sheryl’s family history, I thought a lot about the women and men of my family and how their sway impacts me even today.
I am a first-generation college student and come from working class families. The women role-models in my life valued education and were proud of my accomplishments, but I received the most encouragement to dream big and reach high from male family members. My step-father and uncle stand out as two people who really encouraged me to think beyond the traditional female roles that were part of my world. The women in my family, however, were very strong. My grandmother raised six children on her own with very little money. She helped my step-grandfather run a produce market, and I have witnessed her unloading fruit from trucks early in the morning because the hired helpers had not yet arrived. While my mother didn’t go to college, she has been a life-long learner. She learned to sew and oil paint when I was in high school, and she opened and ran her own ceramics business for many years. I learned from all of these people and many others. What is your story?
“If my generation was too naïve, the generations that have followed may be too practical.” I am interested to know what you think about this assertion. Has moderate success made today’s young women complacent? Would you describe yourself as a “leader” or a “visionary”?
Both my sister and I married about a year after we graduated from high school. We both went on to complete college degrees, but I often think about the familial pressure to marry young and how it impacted both of our lives. I am interested how the various generations of people who are reading along will think about the ambition argument. Is ambition a “dirty word” for women of your generation?
During my doctoral dissertation, I looked at gender differences in mathematics persistence. One of the threads of my research dealt with the social construction of gender. Girls, in general, play with very different toys than do boys. As a result, they are often lagging in their special visualization abilities and this impacts their ability to do advanced mathematics. The classroom difference between teacher interaction with boys and girls is well-documented as well. Can you think of a time when you were encouraged or discouraged from playing with certain toys because of your gender?
I really love Sheryl’s commencement address! If we ever find ourselves without a speaker, I think I will just read it! (Wouldn’t it be wonderful for her to be OUR speaker?)
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience
in which you really stop to look fear in the face.
You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.
~ Eleanor Roosevelt ~
This is one of my favorite quotes and Sheryl ends her address with a question that echoes this idea. What would YOU do if you weren’t afraid?
Posted: Dec. 09, 2013
Chapter 2 - Chapter 3
Sit at the Table
"And yet as disappointed as I was that these women made that choice, I also deeply understood the insecurities that drew them to the side of the room and kept them glued to those chairs"(Sandberg, 28).
The women described in this text were part of an executive-level meeting who did not choose chairs at the conference table and even when invited to the table, remained in the chairs at the side. The author follows this with an assertion that high-achieving women feel like frauds or impostors who are likely to be found out. As I read this text, I reflected on my own experiences and attitudes. When I was a senior mathematics major with a 3.8 GPA, I was in an advanced calculus class that was heavy with theoretical information. The format of the class was lecture and I recall a day when I really didn't understand the material being presented. As I looked around at my all-male classmates, none of them seemed perplexed. My interpretation was that the material was easy for them and that I didn't belong in the class. I even wondered if I should change my major. These feelings of inadequacy kept me from asking questions and added to my propensity to the impostor syndrome. I have a tendency to believe that any success can be attributed to my work ethic and to the talents of those around me; compliments are difficult to embrace.
Did this passage resonate with you? I am very interested in the male perspective on this topic. The reporting of studies indicating that women judge their performance as worse than it is while men's self-appraisal is opposite is indicative of a significant difference in confidence! To what do you attribute your successes? Be honest! If someone were interviewing you and the result was to be published, how would you answer? How about your failures?
As the book points out, there exist both internal and external factors for the disparity in male and female confidence. There is much to be done to change societal and stereotype attitudes. This, however, gets much more attention than the inner doubts and confidence issues with which women deal. For me, acknowledging these challenges is the beginning of overcoming them. How about you? Are you "faking it until you feel it?"
Do you take the initiative and reach for opportunities or do you wait to be "chosen"? I LOVE the assertion by the author that there is no perfect fit for opportunities! Keep your hand up!
Success and Likeability
I was recently part of a search committee (not at SMWC) and was the only woman in the group. We were asked to watch recorded videos of 6 applicants, 2 women and 4 men. While each candidate had been screened to insure that they met the basic qualifications for the job, my male colleagues evaluated the younger woman as lacking the skills to lead. They questioned her years of experience and her status as a young mother. The other woman was viewed as "pushy" and "abrasive" when she discussed her leadership style and her accomplishments. I spoke up on both counts and I could see the dismissal in the eyes of some of the men in the room. They assumed that I was advocating on behalf of the female applicants because of my own gender bias when in fact, I believe that I was trying to view each applicant on their merits. I created a scoring rubric and listened for the quality of the answers of each candidate. I rated both woman more highly than my male counterparts did but not necessarily higher than every male applicant. This was a real-life example of the Heidi/Howard scenario. Have you ever witnessed this too?
As a female leader, I must express confident leadership and yet be cognizant of how I am perceived. I wonder if strong male leaders ever consider this. Consider for yourself how you have thought about a strong, decisive woman in your experience. Did you ever think negatively of traits in her that might have been considered positive in a man? Anyone brave enough to confess? I will go first! During the campaign when Hillary Clinton was running for President, I remember watching one of the debates and thinking how "bitey" and aggressive her responses seemed. (I also found myself critiquing her pantsuit and hair.) At some point, I acknowledged to myself that I was using a different metric for Hillary than for the male candidates. I couldn't even recall what they wore or how their hair looked! I had to face the Heidi/Howard effect in me!
"In order to protect ourselves from being disliked, we question our abilities and downplay our achievements, especially in the presence of others. We put ourselves down before others can" (Sandberg, 41). Is this part of your psyche? How do you withstand criticism? Are you willing for some not to like you in order for you to be a strong, decisive leader?
Posted Jan.7, 2014
I am inserting a recent article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education as the latest blog. It details the disparity in numbers of female and male leaders in academia. The article ends with suggestions from one of the authors about steps that could be taken by educational institutions to encourage more participation by female academicians in leadership roles.
For my own experience, I recall the decision-making process as I moved from the role of Associate Professor to Assistant Academic Dean. I considered the 12-month contract, 9-hour days and the added pressures for a long time before moving forward with the application process. What I didn’t admit to myself was that I also was nervous about the move to a role where I had much lesser experience and where I would be open to criticism from faculty colleagues. I was encouraged strongly by a friend and mentor and yet I still had many personal and self-doubts. Each step in my career since that move has been accompanied by much consideration, encouragement by peers, discouragement by peers, self-reflection and deliberation about the balance of my family and professional life.
“Leaning in” is not something that comes naturally to me. The vulnerability of leadership is not always comfortable and yet being willing to be publically vulnerable, express new ideas, and move forward is liberating.
Women and Academic Leadership: Leaning Out
The recently published best seller Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg, has sparked lively exchanges online, in personal conversations, and on college campuses. Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, argues that in many cases professional women hold themselves back in their careers by failing to "lean in" to opportunities, and that they hold back because of concerns about how professional positions might affect future life choices.
As women who study leadership and gender in higher education, we were interested in what insights Sandberg's book would bring to issues on campus. We found that many of the findings in the book resonated with what we knew about women in academe from our own research and other studies, that many midcareer women opt to forgo promotion and leadership positions in anticipation of messy politics, sexist cultures, or irreconcilable challenges between work life and family life. The result is that women get stuck in midlevel positions, and fewer women than men occupy the corner offices on campuses. Is this because academic women don't lean in?
For the past 35 years, women have represented the majority of undergraduate students. Yet they fill only one in four college presidencies and represent a mere 29 percent of full professors—with women still overrepresented in the feminized disciplines of education and nursing and underrepresented in engineering and the sciences. Obtaining the rank of full professor affords opportunities for leadership in faculty governance, extends national influence in the disciplines, and is a traditional prerequisite for climbing the leadership ladder.
At the start of the faculty pipeline, women represent half of beginning faculty members, but the pipeline begins to leak as the number of female associate professors dips to 42 percent. Half of the chief academic officers at community colleges are women, and approximately one-third of four-year colleges have women in that position. But 65 percent of them do not want or are not sure about seeking a presidency, and the predominant reason they give is that the nature of the work is unappealing, according to the American Council on Education.
Women actually lean back from the ladder of academic progress, promotion, and leadership because of a perception that advanced positions in academe are not open to women, and particularly women who hope to make time for a family or life beyond work.
Anticipating the challenges they may face in leadership positions or the promotion process (challenges they have often been warned about, personally experienced, or witnessed since graduate school), some women choose to remain associate professors or as faculty members not interested in formal leadership or administrative roles. Others choose part-time or non-tenure-track positions as a way to avoid potential conflicts between academic work and parenthood. Likewise, midlevel administrators decide to stay put because of a lack of internal opportunities for advancement, or in a desire to avoid the spotlight and constant public scrutiny placed on top campus leaders.
Who wants a job that requires one to be "on" at all times, to be the target of unsubstantiated potshots from all corners, and to work 24/7? It's hard to encourage a woman (or anyone) to lean in when institutions lack supportive infrastructure, and when taking the position comes at such a high personal cost.
Academe values and rewards an "ideal worker" norm, where long hours and complete dedication to the position and the organization are expected. Such work norms don't lend themselves to well-rounded careers and are often viewed as incompatible with a healthy and full lifestyle, particularly one that includes children and parenting.
Yet the choice to lean back is only part of the reason there aren't more women in academic leadership. Institutional structures and cultures too often exclude women or create unnecessary boundaries that they perceive as insurmountable and unattractive.
Increasing the number of women in leadership positions means not only looking at the individual women, as Sandberg does in her book, but also looking to institutions to create environments that encourage and support women who want to integrate family life and personal goals with their career aspirations for leadership and advancement. It is possible more women in academe would seek advanced positions if they saw models and norms of a balanced lifestyle, work-family integration, and institutional recognition of the intersection of gender and work.
If campuses are serious about seeing more women in leadership and as full professors, they need to do more than simply encourage women to lean in to their careers. Institutions need to lean forward also. Here are some steps to consider:
- The gateway to academic leadership and to administration is promotion to full professor, so policies related to that process need to be more detailed regarding teaching, research, and service requirements. Career development does not end with getting tenure; programs should include development for midcareer faculty members and entry-level leaders. Policies and practices need to engage women in all levels of the promotion process.
- Colleges should create leadership-development programs that include discussions about gender, work, and family. Selection for these programs must be inclusive, because it places the participants on the first rung of the leadership ladder.
- Faculty members see how leaders work, how they treat others, and what they expect of subordinates, so those in leadership positions need to be mindful of the examples they set. Merely leaning in to traditional male systems fails to question the assumptions behind a culture of overwork and lack of work-family integration.
- Current leaders serving as mentors can promote the accomplishments of women on campus and provide career guidance and tips for advancing women into positions of leadership. Mentors can also provide encouragement to young faculty members and show them that there is no single path to or model for successful leadership.
- It is important to include both men and women in discussions about mentorship, gender, leadership, and development. It is crucial to promote awareness on the part of all colleagues about how they spend their time at work and how they conduct themselves with women.
- Individuals need to be aware of available resources and programs as they seek advancement. It is important for women to know more about campus policies, and, when necessary, to push for changes in inequitable policies and practices. Working with others, both on campus and elsewhere, can help women as they seek promotion.
Sandberg's Lean In, and much of the discussion around the concept, emphasizes the role of individual outlook and initiative in professional women's advancement through institutional roadblocks and traditional mind-sets. But if colleges want to further the advancement of women as full professors and leaders, it is necessary to foster not only the development of individual women, but to create healthy workplaces to lean into.
Posted Jan. 24, 2014
Chapter 4 - Chapter 5
It's a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder
I always viewed my career in terms of a short ladder! I am a teacher, and I only dreamed of teaching. I loved reading the metaphor of the jungle gym as a career path because it has become my reality. The dead ends that I encountered became opportunities, and I certainly didn’t plan to be in my current job.
While being president of a college was not the result of a successful strategy, it was accomplished at least partly as a result of a work ethic instilled in me by my working-class heritage. I am a first-generation college student. My early childhood memories are filled with encouragement to work hard and dream big!
How do you view your career path? This question is relevant whether you are a student preparing for the journey or a sojourner on your way. Do you have a big dream and an 18-month plan?
“I have seen both men and women miss out on great opportunities by focusing too much on career levels” (page 61, Sandburg). The author asserts that women need to be more open to taking risks in their careers. Maybe that is true for all of us!
How do you seek out diverse experiences to prepare yourself for leadership?
“Being risk adverse in the workplace can also cause women to be more reluctant to take on challenging tasks” (page 62, Sandburg). The reason given for this reality is a fear about not having the requisite skills and this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy since most skills are gained on the job. The Hewlett-Packard report detailing the disparity between women and men in willingness to apply for open positions is telling. What was your reaction to this?
Take risks, grow, challenge yourself…that is leaning in!
Are you my mentor?
This was a tough chapter! My experience with mentors is circumstantial. The persons who have served in a truly mentoring role for me have most often been unaware. I have learned by watching and interacting.
As president of a women’s college, I think a lot about mentoring young women. I actively try to help them recognize and appreciate their own unique talents. I encourage them to “aspire higher” in their ambitions. I agree with the author about the reality of reciprocity. Involvement in helping others to learn from my experiences and to achieve their potential is very gratifying and motivating.
Do you have a mentoring testimony?
“It’s wonderful when senior men mentor women” (page 71, Sandburg). It was the testimony of Barbara Fossum ’65 upon receiving the SMWC Distinguished Alumnae Award that women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers need a senior male mentor to advance their careers. When she stated this, my reaction was surprise and a bit of disagreement. Her explanation convinced me, however. What thoughts and feelings does this evoke for you?
Posted Jan. 27, 2014
Seek and Speak Your Truth
The importance and value of authentic communication is illuminated in this chapter. Discussion surrounds ideas such as the importance of speaking up, soliciting feedback on performance and understanding the other person's perspective in a disagreement. As I read all of the relevant illustrations, I was struck by the value of becoming willingly vulnerable in a discussion. We often erect walls of self-preservation that limits our professional (and probably personal as well) communication.
No matter the hierarchical reality, people are either reticent about expressing dissenting opinions to those in authority or those in positions of leadership are wary of exposing doubts. In both cases, there is fear of appearing to be vulnerable.
Since watching a TED talk video on the subject, I have been thinking about the idea of vulnerability. It is very freeing to force yourself to embrace vulnerability and really open yourself up to genuine dialogue and feedback. Anyone have a similar feeling or a personal experience?