This blog was borne out of a presentation entitled “Wonder women: Leaning in as women in student affairs” that the five of us presented at the 2014 ACPA Convention in Indianapolis. Having formed a feminist mentoring and leadership/book discussion group several years prior, we wanted an outlet to share some of key messages with a wider audience, and presenting seemed like a good outlet.
We submitted the program with this description:
When the article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter in the July/August 2012 issue of The Atlantic was published, it stirred the never-ending debate about the value of women in the workplace. It led many, especially those on social media sites, to discuss how living life as a career-driven professional and a loving mother are simply too difficult to experience at the same time. Then, one year later, the article “How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?” by Jean Twenge was published in the same magazine. The article was written to scientifically disprove the commonly held notion that the longer a woman waits to have a child, the more difficult the experience will be. These articles come at a time when Sheryl Sandberg, famous for working at Facebook and more famous for writing Lean In, tells women of today not to let the desire for a family to diminish our professional grit. Now, how does the world of student affairs respond to these takes on feminism? Are there female leaders for us to learn from? The group making this presentation may not have the answers but we want to dig into this question by engaging our audience with our own stories from the workplace and the professional lessons we have learned along the way. In doing so, we describe our own paths to and through leadership in student affairs. And, we will talk about our well-being – our physical, mental, and spiritual growth – that has come with each of us having twenty years of experience in higher education.
Over a year and half ago, one of the presenters approached each of us with the idea for a book club for professional women in student affairs to discuss leadership. The five of us are professional friends who shared the common experience of having few female and feminist mentors. We discussed a yearning to learn from female college presidents but, in reality, women only make us 26% of all college chief executives. We turned to each other in the guise of a book club to talk about our professional paths. As we discussed our how our work impacted our personal decisions and vice versa, we found difficulty in being pulled in multiple directions. And, we were having these challenges as relatively smart and driven women. Collectively, our identities include those of book authors, senior student affairs officers, Ph.D.’s, teachers, bosses, moms, sisters, partners. We are leaders in higher education at the institutional, system, and national levels. Our conversations about the books on women in leadership led us to talk about how our own roles forced us into times of listening to others, feeling degraded by others, feeling encouraged by others, listening to our gut, not listening to our gut, and at times finding ourselves quite alone in our offices. We were textbook examples of Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule’s Women’s Ways of Knowing. In the presentation, we will talk more about these different ways of knowing, specifically how we have experienced constructive knowledge, in our professional paths.
With five presenters, we plan to present in the model of short HED talks. Each HED talk will be a mini-version of our resume with our own commentary on the following: the role of female mentors along the way, what we find to be true and not-so-true about female leadership, how we use what we know about ourselves now, and what we hope for future generations of women. As the coordinating presenter, I will set the stage for the presenters with summaries of the articles written by Slaughter and Twenge and of Sandberg’s book. One co-presenter will discuss what drove her to creating our book club and introduce the books we discussed. We plan to “keep it real” and we will address what our group lacks, namely women of color, and how we talked about this reality as a group. All in all, our presentation is intended to have the audience think about women’s roles as leaders, not just in student affairs but in all parts of higher education, and what role they will play to increase the potential of women leaders.“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” and “How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?” were two recently published articles in a popular current events magazine. Coupled with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, women’s work/life balance and the path to leadership is being discussed as today’s version of feminism. Where does student affairs fit in the discussion? Five women in various leadership roles in higher education share their stories about the intersection of professional paths and personal decisions.”
The purpose of this blog, then, is to continue the conversation about feminism in student affairs and more broadly in higher education.