Talking Shop: Reframing Leadership
You presented on leadership as a social justice strategy at the CASE Strategic Talent Management Conference in 2020. What led you to this work?
Early in my career, I was part of a research study on leadership. I noticed that even though women scored higher on leadership skill, they scored lower on their leadership confidence. So basically, we had talented women leaders who didn’t believe in their abilities as leaders. I started to really puzzle on why. Where was the disconnect happening? I realized that it's because traditional leadership doesn't resonate for women and people with marginalized identities.
How are leadership development and social justice linked?
The "traditional" leadership paradigm is based on having access to power. People with privileged identities (white people, cisgender men) have that access. They always have, so they will feel confident in that paradigm. This makes leadership less accessible to Black and brown people, and women of color. Suddenly, we have a social justice issue.
How can we rethink leadership to be more inclusive?
We need alternative models of leadership that resonate with marginalized people. These models are rarely top-down and hierarchical; instead, they are almost always community-based. We need to start teaching these models of leadership, not only to people with marginalized identities but also to those with privileged identities who want to see more diversity in their leadership ranks and want to build more inclusive organizations. If it's a priority to create diverse and inclusive cultures, it follows that we need more diverse and inclusive types of leadership.
What are some steps managers should take to reframe leadership?
The first thing is to recognize leadership when you see it in people with marginalized and minoritized identities. Acknowledge and name it, because these folks aren't used to being referred to as leaders. Then create opportunities for them that provide access and visibility so they can move into leadership spaces.
It's also important to understand that not everyone wants to be the senior vice president of advancement. So, what does leadership look like for that person? A lot of times, it looks like being able to participate, feeling psychologically safe enough to contribute their thoughts, and taking on some part of the leadership process. How can you as a manager ensure that happens?
How can individual advancement professional grow their own leadership capacity?
I'm a big fan of experience. There's so much great work you can do within your organization, whether that's joining an existing committee or starting one or looking broadly on your campus for other opportunities. That develops wonderful skills and increases your network.
Also, for women and people of color especially, know that there is no one right way to be a leader. That's an outdated assumption. Understanding your unique value that you have as an individual matters. A lot of times it's going to be rooted in your lived experience. What are the values that you have derived from those experiences? Lead with that.
How have perspectives on women's leadership shifted recently?
COVID-19 put a fine point on what we already knew: women perform a disproportionate amount of the unpaid labor for our society, like caregiving and household tasks. These are impediments to our full participation in the workforce. We've arrived at this critical consciousness about the necessity of having more support from our organizations. I see this in advancement when women talk about the lack of flexible scheduling, the lack of remote or hybrid work arrangements, and the 24/7 work culture that is predicated on the assumption that there is someone at home doing the household and caregiving tasks.
Not every woman is a mother or parent, but it's assumed by our society that they will be. So even if you don't have kids, it is assumed that you might someday, and because of that, you're seen as potentially less committed and reliable. You're passed over for leadership opportunities. This is a social justice issue and women are frustrated, to say the least. I think we'll see more and more women moving into leadership roles to either create the change themselves to fix it, or because it's been fixed.
How did the Amplify Initiative for Women and Gender, which just won a Grand Gold Circle of Excellence Award, come about?
It’s a culmination of my earlier realizations about leadership and identity. I was at a CASE District I session on women's leadership and it was fabulous, but like most leadership development experiences, it took place at a remote location with a bunch of strangers. I started thinking about what it would take to make this experience better. I wrote down a bunch of ideas that brought in things like community, social change, values—ideas I touched upon earlier. Right after the session, I went out to the main session where there was a flyer to apply for the CASE District I Venture Fund, a fund established to support innovative ideas for advancement. I took it as a sign from the universe and Amplify was born.
With support from Dartmouth and the District I Venture Fund, I partnered with Amy Bronson at Boston University to design this eight-week leadership development program. The beauty of it is that you have women who are able to sustain their community after the program ends, and you have common language and knowledge about leadership. We're finishing our second year right now with 155 participants.
About the author(s)
Meredith Barnett is the manager, digital communications at CASE.
Article appears in:
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