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Although women today hold more leadership positions in academic medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy than ever before, 75 to 85 percent of deans and department chairs remain men.1 Even the percentages of women faculty members fall well below the current proportion of women students, and disparities in tenure status, salary, and national awards, as well as for such benefits as lab space, administrative support, and research time, continue to be reported in medicine, pharmacy, and dentistry. As Dr. Judith Albino notes in her article in this issue,2 academic institutions and organizations are seeking to redress these inequities with leadership development programs for women and even some internal policy changes. As important as such moves are, however, there is also a need for us to understand the implicit assumptions within these environments that create invisible barriers for women.
One of those assumptions is the general tendency to associate stereotypically male behaviors with leadership qualities. In a recent issue of Academic Medicine, Janet Bickel reports that studies have found both women and men continue to hold common perceptual biases: “men are expected to be agentic (assertive and decisive) and women to be communal (nurturing and egalitarian).”3 When men act assertively, Bickel adds, they tend to be praised for their confidence, while women who display agentic behaviors are often criticized for being harsh and are judged negatively if perceived to be insufficiently nurturing.
These stereotypes became institutionalized during times when professional environments were almost exclusively male. Certain behaviors came to be viewed as “typically” male and female, and the value placed on different types of work became gendered as a result. When women then began to enter the workplace in greater numbers, these implicit aspects of the culture, even if not intended to be discriminatory, put them at a disadvantage. Since these socially constructed stereotypes persist today, “a vicious cycle ensues,” explain business professors Herminia Ibarra, Robin Ely, and Deborah Kolb in Harvard Business Review: “Men appear to be best suited to leadership roles, and this perception propels more of them to seek and attain such positions, thus reinforcing the notion that they are simply better leaders.”4
Such entrenched beliefs limit not only those (mostly men) who make promotional decisions; they also inhibit those women who view themselves as lacking leadership potential if they feel communal behavior comes more easily to them, but they’re told they must become agentic to succeed. In an attempt to overcome this impediment, many business experts are now emphasizing the need to help women seethemselves as leaders as a crucial part of the process. “It’s not enough to identify and instill the ‘right’ skills and competencies as if in a social vacuum,” Ibarra et al. point out. “The context must support a woman’s motivation to lead and also increase the likelihood that others will recognize and encourage her efforts—even when she doesn’t look or behave like the current generation of senior executives.”
Addressing this context entails understanding the new concept of “second-generation gender bias.” As Ibarra et al. explain, unlike the explicit limitations on women that occurred under first-generation bias, the current form “erects powerful but subtle and often invisible barriers for women that arise from cultural assumptions and organizational structures, practices, and patterns of interaction that inadvertently benefit men while putting women at a disadvantage.” These barriers result in an environment that subtly discourages women and places them outside leadership paths. Such discouragement usually arrives in disguise: in an executive’s expression of frustration that, while the institution wants to promote women, only men can be considered for a position because all the women lack the “right” skill set; in a department chair’s expression of concern in encouraging a woman faculty member, but never her male counterpart, to take a less-demanding role when she has young children; in a media focus on the few women in high-level positions as implying that “the right” women can succeed, so those who don’t lack some essential qualities or sufficient commitment.
Changing longstanding cultural assumptions to meet the needs of the 21st-century workplace and its participants will not happen quickly, but taking steps to rectify the effects of second-generation gender bias are a good place to begin. For example, rather than trying to affect perceptions, which usually means teaching women to adopt agentic behaviors, Ibarra et al. make a convincing argument for sidestepping gender stereotypes altogether and instead focusing leadership development on helping women gain a sense of themselves as leaders and chart a course to be recognized as such. They tell the story of an investment banker named Amanda whose career stalled when she was told “she lacked ‘presence’ with clients . . . and was not sufficiently outspoken in meetings.” In new assignments, however, she was praised by the women CFOs of two client companies for her “smarts and the skillful way she handled their needs and concerns.” Their vocal support helped her supervisors “see her not just as a competent project manager but as a trusted client adviser,” a key part of the business. The confidence Amanda gained in this experience made her more willing to put forward her own ideas and led to a promotion. Her story demonstrates the need to see women’s leadership potential in what Ibarra et al. call “less conventional ways—being responsive to clients’ needs, for example, rather than boldly asserting a point of view.”
Another aspect of this alternate form of women’s leadership development advocates designing mentoring around helping mentees achieve “social capital,” which Bickel reports has been found in studies to be “more predictive of career success than actual performance at management tasks.” Gaining greater visibility and expanding professional networks increase one’s social capital, since it is those who are known to upper-level decision makers who will be appointed to key committees, assigned to major projects, and nominated for awards and other forms of recognition. A supportive mentor-champion will not only assist women in making those professional connections, but will also provide guidance on strategies, bolster their mentees’ resilience, and help keep them from growing discouraged in this building process over time. Dr. Nancy Andrews, dean of the Duke University School of Medicine and the first woman to lead a top-10 research-intensive medical school, has become known for her efforts to help women and members of other underrepresented groups overcome invisible barriers. She gives them, for example, “spots on important committees, such as the budget committee, instead of the committee tasked with evaluating on-campus day-care requirements,” as well as “protected time to develop their careers” and encouragement to “cultivate advocates.”5
Moves such as these point to the need to address the work environment as a whole if health professions education is to become a more productive setting in which women can achieve success and advance. In a play on Sheryl Sandberg’s famous image of women “leaning in” to opportunities, higher education scholars Kelly Ward and Pamela Eddy emphasize that “institutions need to lean forward also” since “merely leaning in to traditional male systems fails to question the assumptions behind a culture of overwork and lack of work-family integration.”6 Rather, Ward and Eddy conclude, “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.” A study conducted as part of the National Initiative on Gender, Culture, and Leadership in Medicine found that both women and men feel demoralized by the culture of academic medical centers, characterized by its lead author as a “dehumanizing organizational culture . . . that doesn’t allow people to realize their potential or be as vital and productive as they can be.”7 By developing a supportive environment and encouraging a work-life balance for all their employees, academic institutions in the health professions can become models of workplace excellence that will benefit both women and men.
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In the academic health professions, as in other fields, women who aspire to leadership roles continue to face challenges. In spite of making extraordinary gains in terms of their entry into these professions, women in medicine and dentistry are cases in point. In medicine, 47% of the students are women, but they make up only 38% of faculty, 22% of tenured full professors, and only 15% of chairs and 16% of deans. Dentistry looks much the same, with almost 50% of students being women, but they represent only 35% of faculty, 18% of full professors, and 15% of deans. Even more disturbing is the fact that, across levels, women in academic dentistry earn only 82% of what their male colleagues earn.
The good news is that our academic health professions organizations, as well as many universities, are recognizing the problems and are taking steps to create solutions. In addition to a number of recommendations related to workplace changes (e.g., policies related to maternity/paternity leave, tenure clocks that acknowledge the need for time related to child rearing, dual career appointment provisions, and others), leadership programs that will encourage and support the advancement of women in leadership roles are understood to be critically important for the development of a larger cadre of women leaders.
A number of such leadership programs are available, and many will cover some of the same leadership topics – e.g., personality assessment, leadership profiles, conflict management, influencing others, and a variety of other topics. Some contain the extra benefits of individual feedback and coaching, opportunities to work with mentors, and team-based learning experiences. One of the major differences among leadership programs is how specifically tailored they are to the levels at which the participants are functioning. Programs that are targeted at department chairs, for example, will offer the advantage that other participants will be struggling with the same challenges. The work and the examples used are more focused on what is relevant to participants, and participants can provide useful insights for one another.
But what about gender-specific programs? I am often asked whether leadership programs designed exclusively for women’s participation are preferable to those that include male participants. Strong opinions exist on both sides of that question. Arguments against all-women training models have focused on their dissimilarity to real-world settings, in which men and women routinely work together. In addition, some have argued that separate training programs for women incorrectly imply there are “deficiencies” that must be corrected in the ways that women perceive and learn about leadership.
My own view is that the choice about leadership programs based on gender participation depends on who a woman is and what kind of environment she needs to achieve her best learning. One of the primary advantages touted for all-women programs is that women-only settings increase risk-taking, and research has indicated that risk-taking enhances learning. This may be especially important for women who are still early in their careers. In all-women settings, they can focus on their own development and challenges in a room full of people with similar issues and experiences. They can explore their leadership identities, their strengths, and their weaknesses apart from the usual context. This is important because that context almost invariably includes male leadership behavior models who–by their presence alone–may create uncertainties for women about their own performance as leaders.
There are a number of specific topics for which all-women programs may offer preferable settings in which to explore and build leadership talent. Men and women traditionally have differed in their socialization, working styles, and also on the standards by which they view and evaluate success. I am referring here to research findings that indicate women, as a group, tend to be more oriented to nurturing and supporting others than to competing. Consequently, they tend to value the ability to achieve with and through others, rather than by winning a point, or exercising control. Women also tend to evaluate themselves differently, often placing less credibility, for example, on their experience and knowledge than would men in similar positions, or attributing their successes to luck rather than ability. Yet these same aspects of our work personalities and work lives can make women excellent, as well as different, leaders. They may be leaders who are much more attuned to diverse interests and to the integration of emotional and interpersonal factors, as well as quantifiable measures of achievement, and they will be quick to assess the impact of change on entire systems, as well as individuals. Whether they are learning in an all-women setting, or a mixed-gender one, however, emerging leaders need opportunities to give voice to these new leadership self-images.
Our educational and health care organizations, by necessity, are evolving into far more diverse and responsive institutions, as the needs of our students and our patients demand. And as this occurs, training for the leadership of these organizations also will change. Programs may not need to separate women entirely in order to provide opportunities for leadership growth, but it is important that opportunities are found to acknowledge and to support women’s ways of working. The strengths of those differences that women bring to work settings can create leadership that ultimately will best provide for the needs of our organizations and those who are served by them.
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I recently participated in a panel discussion on mentoring at a university departmental retreat. The topic of communication between men and women was raised. A female faculty member shared that when she had previously worked primarily with men, she felt most effective when she talked like a “bossy man,” but felt that the same style in her current workgroup with more women was ineffective. The male facilitator interrupted the discussion and asked, “What does it mean to ‘talk like a man’?” Women in the audience laughed and nodded their heads knowingly.
In research on communication across genders, a major theme is differences in men’s and women’s language and meaning as learned behaviors. The first question asked to new parents—“is it a boy or girl?”— determines what is said, the tone of voice used, and even expectations for how the baby will behave from earliest infancy through childhood development. These developmental influences establish cultural norms for boys and girls, with implicit rules for behavior and language; therefore, communication between men and women is “cross-cultural.” The cross-cultural approach is associated with Deborah Tannen’s best-sellers1, built on seminal academic work by Robin Lakoff, Candace West, Jennifer Coates2, and others, and recently popularized by Sheryl Sandberg3.
Men and women in leadership use the same language differently to build relationships and influence people. As demonstrated even in young children at play, male communication styles tend to be direct and competitive in order to gain social standing (“give me the ball!” or “I can throw the highest”). In contrast, female communication styles tend to be indirect and cooperative (“let’s play ball” or “we can pretend to all be sisters”). Men tend to use talking as opportunities to increase status, and women tend to use talking as opportunities to increase solidarity by emphasizing intimacy and similarity.
How do men tend to talk? Men’s talk may be direct and include comments to establish credibility and status: “I’ve done this work for 15 years and seen it all—the right approach is to advertise our expertise online.” Women’s talk may be indirect and include expressions of uncertainty as a way of bringing people along: “This may not work at all, and I have never faced a challenge exactly like this one, but we might consider posting a web survey, you know?” Women may interpret the man’s remarks as boastful and reflecting certainty, and may overvalue the importance of his perspective because of how he said it. In contrast, men may undervalue the woman’s perspective because she spoke less authoritatively, downplayed her own idea, and spoke as if she were asking instead of telling.
As leaders, what can you do to be more effective by using a better understanding of gender and communication?
Minimizing miscommunication will allow you to get the most out of all people, maximize engagement, and enhance the effectiveness of your leadership. We welcome hearing about your own experiences and solutions. Good Luck!
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In the 21st century, women have multiple roles: mothers, students, leaders, decision-makers, workers, caretakers, advocates, politicians, and much more. In each role women can have a voice and influence, as well as enjoy all opportunities and choices paramount to the attainment of goals.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment are two areas essential to economic and social development, central to managing change and facing challenges in the 21st century, and critical to helping women achieve their full potential. Why is it that even as women rise to the top and make gender diversity and empowerment a priority, little happens? Is it lack of competence, lack of qualifications, lack of commitment, or lack of resilience? It is likely none of these. Women have been breaking barriers for centuries, such as Florence Nightingale, who established the first nursing school in 1860, and Anna Eerdmann, who was the first female to graduate from the Polytechnic Institute in 1907. We also can’t forget Irene Sendler, who helped smuggle some 2,500 children out of Warsaw posing as a plumber/sewer worker during the Holocaust. We certainly cannot forget all the women who provided service in both World War I and World War II, not only replacing men in the factories, but also fighting for our country, as over 350,000 women served in the US armed forces in World War II. We cannot forget the 46 women who have been awarded a Nobel Prize (out of 864 Laureates).
According to an article from the Center for American Progress, women make up 50.8% of the U.S. population. They earn almost 60% of undergraduate degrees, and 60% of all master’s degrees. They constitute 47% of the US labor force, with 59% of the college-educated, entry-level workforce. Despite these major milestones, women still fall far behind men when it comes to representation in leadership positions. They represent only 14.6% of executive officers and 8.1% of the top wage earners. Only 21 of the current Fortune 500 chief executives are women, with only 16.9% of the board seats. A study in 2008 assessed women in top administration positions in higher education: they only represented 27% of the highest levels, with 13.5% of research institutions lead by women presidents and 23.5% with female provost positions. An important responsibility of leaders is to create an environment that engages their workforce and helps employees develop the best they have to offer. This requires a fundamental identity shift: one where women are seen by others as leaders. It is not enough to provide competencies for becoming an effective “leader”; we must also change the climate so others will recognize and encourage those efforts.
While there are still many challenges facing women today, they can find a sense of leadership purpose within themselves. To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, “Everyone thinks about changing the world, but we don’t think about changing ourselves.” The central issue is not just changing your strategy, structure, culture, or system; it is about changing your behavior and the behavior of those around you. Nothing will change itself; we have to step out of our comfort zones and take action.
Below are some tips that may help you as you move to lead and motivate others:
Define a Clear Vision. Your vision will serve as your roadmap. It must be clear to positively lead and motivate people through cultural and organizational change.
Put Yourself in Others’ Shoes. Know your employees and colleagues. What tools, training, and support do they need to be successful? Make no assumptions, dig into the trenches, and walk-the-talk.
Think Before You Act. Everyone has acted hastily at one time or another. If (or when) you slip and do something you regret, just stop and apologize. You will be surprised how much employees and colleagues appreciate that you recognize, admit, and correct your own mistakes.
Communicate. How and when you transmit your messages is critical. Spend time with employees and colleagues; they can provide a wealth of information.
Engage. You won’t get much from employees if you (or they) are not engaged. Empower and engage at all levels in planning and decision making.
Respect and Trust. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you! Respect and trust your team so they can respect and trust you in return.
Coach/Mentorship. Most everyone wants to do well. Providing clear feedback and guidance on how to improve is a powerful motivator. Again, timing is everything—do it now and often. Pay attention to everything, and it will be easier to manage effectively.
Positive Framing. The frames people use to view the world and process experiences can make a critical difference to outcomes. Optimism provides a framework that is crucial to making good business decisions.
Be Kind. Saying “thank you” goes a long way, both formally and informally. Timing is everything—catching people doing things right and thanking them on the spot is a powerful motivator.
Be Fair. You cannot be fair to others until first being fair to yourself. Political correctness always will be of concern. Be fair and consider each circumstance. Policies are established for a reason, but use your experience, knowledge, and good judgment to do what’s right. You will be glad you did.
Overcome Fear. “The courage to think and act outside your comfort zone comes with a price. That price is integrity, perspective, strength, and innovation. Persistence in the face of adversity is one of the cornerstones of resilience. Take responsibility for your own fate. Remember…courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” ~Ambrose Redmoon.
Resilience and Flexibility. “Life does not necessarily get easier or more forgiving. You must be more resilient and accepting. You are limited only by what you allow yourself to be limited to. If it is to be, it is up to me!” ~William H. Johnsen.
Have fun. Do something you love. Over your lifetime, you will spend ~100,000 hours at work. “The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” ~Steve Jobs.
Work-life Balance. Understand your priorities between work (career and ambition) and life (health, pleasure, leisure, family, and spiritual development).
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In this challenging time in higher education, good leaders are more desperately needed than ever before. The search for leadership talent has led some researchers to focus their attention on mid-level administrators whose roles and functions support institutional goals and mission. Mid-level administrators are the academic or nonacademic personnel who report to a top-level college or university officer, senior administrator, or Dean.
In a nation with more than 4,000 accredited higher education institutions, the largest administrative group in colleges and universities is typically represented by mid-level administrators. Despite their interaction with a variety of constituents and support of academic, research, and service initiatives, mid-level administrators receive limited development to improve in their current roles or prepare for challenging executive positions. According to Johnsrud et al., this administrative group faces “ill-defined career paths, multiple entry points, and a lack of explicit criteria for determining mobility”1.
When the lens is focused on women in general or women of color in particular, many of these mid-level administrators prefer not to advance to formal leadership or administrator opportunities in anticipation of messy politics, sexist cultures, or irreconcilable challenges between work life and family life. For those who choose the path to leadership, studies have addressed the solo stressors and anxiety from being the only woman or woman of color. Despite these challenges, the importance of advancing women in higher education and cultivating the leadership talent in mid-level administrators is immense. It is for this reason the following recommendations are organized around two questions:
How do women avoid the “stuck in mid-level positions” syndrome?
Some of the lessons outlined in Gupton and Slick’s 1996 study on Highly Successful Women Administrators still have relevance today and provide steps for women to avoid the “stuck in mid-level positions” syndrome2.
- Be Prepared – Often opportunities are all around in a variety of forms. If appointments are few, consider volunteering for committees and projects of interest.
- Persevere – Remain steadfast and focus on the path you plan for your career.
- Be Diligent and Professional – Practice people management skills and lead by example.
- Develop and Maintain Strong Support Systems – Reach out to and through others for assistance in achieving your career goals. Attend meetings of women leaders on or off campus.
- Practice What You Seek – Investigate mentoring and sponsorship relationships. Remember mentors do not always look like you.
- Believe in Yourself – Be confident in your abilities and what you have to offer.
How do senior leaders prevent gender imbalance and promote the advancement of women mid-level administrators?
Senior leaders may consider the following as steps to improving current roles and preparing mid-level administrators for more challenging positions in their institutions:
- Promote awareness.
- Support professional development opportunities for navigating their career path.
- Cultivate a mentorship environment.
- Encourage protected time to develop their careers.
- Recommend for awards, presentations, collaborations, or opportunities.
- Create healthy workplaces that encourage and support women who want to integrate family life and personal goals with their career aspirations for leadership and advancement.
Evidence has shown mid-level administrators are a talent pool to cultivate in higher education for organizational effectiveness and sustainability. In order to foster the advancement of women mid-level administrators, active correction of inequities and the development of solutions for promoting gender diversity is important.
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QU summit draws high-level experts, organizations, sponsors
In the February 23-24, 2015 Middle East and North Africa Universities Summit, participants included regional and international university leaders, representatives of leading educational, business and industry organizations, and world-renowned experts of higher education, including the Academy for Academic Leadership (AAL), represented by AAL Senior Consultant W. Rory Hume, D.D.S., Ph.D., D.D.S.C.
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While women earn 60% of the graduate degrees, they only hold 14.6% of the high-level executive positions.
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