Tag Archives: Jennifer Keup

Letter to my Feminist Hero

by Jennifer R. Keup

Dear Lena,

I have just finished reading your recently-published autobiography, The Road from Serres: A Feminist Odyssey and two sentiments come to mind:  “wow” and “thank you.”

My first sentiment—“wow”—is nothing new with respect to my reaction to you. I still remember being a new graduate student in the Higher Education and Organizational Change division of the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA many years back.  I felt like I had fooled the admissions committee into admitting me and kept awaiting the tap upon my shoulder from a faculty member who would say, “we are so sorry, we meant for that admissions letter to go to Jennifer Kemp not Jennifer Keup; please gather your things and leave.” Add to that the fact that the larger-than-life Alexander “Sandy” Astin was my assigned advisor (truly one of the greatest gifts I have ever had in my academic and professional career) and that I was one of the few members of my cohort not already convinced that I had a future in the professoriate, and I had an absolutely towering case of imposter syndrome.

As with nearly all of the advisees of one of The Astins and as a graduate student researcher at the Higher Education Research Institute, I truly felt as if I had been academically “adopted” by the both of you even though Sandy was my advisor (talk about winning the graduate student lottery!). And when I met you, I was in absolute awe. In those days when I was a budding feminist, you truly offered a model unlike almost any other I had experienced and, in many ways, were a picture of balance in what I thought should have been contradictions. Continue reading Letter to my Feminist Hero

Success and Likeability

By Jennifer R. Keup

“What a nice little girl!”

This is probably a refrain that many of us heard in our youth. Replace “nice” with “good,” “sweet,” “cute,” or “charming” and there are any number of variations to communicate this praise for young women that reinforce the idea that we should be agreeable, nonthreatening, and, most importantly, likeable. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these traits, the challenge arises when they become the primary character themes of our youth and ones that are reinforced through adulthood and into our professional lives as female leaders.

Because, let’s be honest, people of all genders prefer women who are likeable, non-threatening, sweet, and nice. Popular media and academic scholarship show that “high-achieving women experience social backlash because their very success – and specifically the behaviors that created that success – violates our expectations about how women are supposed to behave. Continue reading Success and Likeability

Modern Mentorship: Look Laterally

by Jennifer R. Keup

Mentorship is almost ubiquitous in the leadership literature. Find yourself a good mentor and you will receive sage advice, have a strong advocate in your field, enjoy a ready reference from an influential professional, and gain entrance to rooms and conversations that are normally reserved for those at levels above your own. By association, your mentors will allow you to taste the nectar of top-shelf leadership roles and try on the trappings of your next professional positions. The formula for finding professional mentors is also pretty established: find someone you admire in your field who occupies a position a few rungs above you on the professional ladder and ask for their guidance. The potential mentor will be flattered by your invitation, identifies you as someone worthy of investment, and you ride off in to the sunset of mentorship bliss. Perfect, no?

In my experience: not always.

This traditional model of leadership causes professionals, especially women, to view a mentor much like a savior or a hero in a fairy tale. As Sheryl Sandberg says:

We all grew up on…“Sleeping Beauty,” which instructs young women that if they just wait for their prince to arrive, they will be kissed and whisked away on a white horse to live happily ever after. Now young women are told that if they can just find the right mentor, they will be pushed up the ladder and whisked away to the corner office to live happily ever after.

In my own experience, I have generally followed the traditional rules and searched up the professional ladder for my mentors. However, as I have progressed in my career, my professional advancement has left me with a pool of far fewer individuals above me from which to select a mentor. Continue reading Modern Mentorship: Look Laterally