2018 is a contradictory time for women. They are more active than ever in higher education and the workforce, yet are not represented in leadership ranks of various fields. We are in a moment when a female candidate for U.S. president can win the national popular vote at the same time the #MeToo movement reveals just how common and systemic gender-based violence is in everyday life.
We have much work to do to break down the formidable gender-based obstacles that block women from positions of power and leadership. The political and economic conditions of this volatile moment demand socially engaged research on women and leadership.
A group of Roosevelt University faculty and staff have come together to launch the Women’s Leadership Center, a collaborative research, education and advocacy project on women’s leadership that brings multi-disciplinary approaches to the study of women, power and leadership to support organizational and cultural change so as to achieve greater gender justice across diverse fields.
In honor of Women’s History Month, the members of the Women’s Leadership Center share these reflections on why women’s leadership matters:
Marjorie Jolles, associate professor, Women’s and Gender Studies; director, Honors program:
I believe effective leaders clarify and advance specific values, and our values tend to be drawn from our lived experience. So, when women lead, certain values and concerns that reflect women’s lived experiences come into focus, such as equitable divisions of labor and bodily autonomy. These issues may never rise to the surface when women are not in leadership positions.
Women’s leadership matters because women’s lives matter.
Regina Buccola, professor, English; chair, Humanities and Literature & Languages:
A key aspect of leadership is modeling: showing how filling a particular role is done, and what it looks like to fill it. The Roosevelt University alma mater includes the lyric “to be what we dream takes courage to start” — that courage is easier to access when one has a model to work from. It is imperative that we cultivate women’s leadership in all arenas in order to endow women with the courage to start on the path to fulfilling their dreams.
Leslie Rebecca Bloom, Women’s and Gender Studies; Bacon Associate Professor of Educational Leadership:
Women’s leadership matters because at its best, it puts into action a principled, feminist dedication to justice, empathy, respect, collaboration, kindness and humility. It matters to social justice advocacy because it identifies strategies that will be effective in specific contexts and because it is committed to mobilizing groups to work together on important intersectional issues.
A core value of women’s leadership is to build and sustain relationships, especially when these relationships are challenging because of differences of values, ideologies, life experiences, personalities and communication styles. Women’s leadership matters.
La Vonne A. Downey, Justice and Politics/Health Services:
Investing in and encouraging female leadership is good for the world. This is in part due to what women do with their resources. They invest 90 percent of their income back into their families. This results in more educated, healthy children and a better community. The more women are educated, the healthier the economy, with three percent impact on GDP. Study after study has shown that if we increase the number of women in political power, we get more cooperation across ethnic and political lines.
Women as political leaders are seen as being important to improving government’s responsiveness to all citizens. If they hold at least 30 percent of political seats, we get a government that is more egalitarian, democratic, and more likely to have less conflict and more lasting peace agreements. Thus, in order for the world to be healthier, safer and more democratic, we must develop and encourage female leadership.
Yeeseon Kwon, associate professor, Piano Musicianship and Piano Pedagogy:
Women have an everyday presence that frames an array of backgrounds and perspectives encompassing class, race, color, religion and education, among others. The global equity of our humanity and culture comes from this bedrock of diversity. This advancement of humanity in our world, workplace, learning institutions and homes requires the broadest and most inclusive celebrations of the best possible outcomes for any transformative leadership.
Women’s leadership provides a way to broaden monolithic gender perspectives so that we can live out the diverse spectrum of our communities — even if it requires taking the time to share and acknowledge that it can feel uncomfortable and messy along the way.
Amanda Wornhoff, assistant provost; Core Curriculum and Assessment:
Traditional conceptions of leadership can marginalize the voices and experiences of women and many other groups. Openly exploring how we navigate leadership across gender, race, economic and class boundaries is crucial if we aim to create positive social change. Recent political events have reinvigorated conversations around the meaning of women’s leadership. We must continue this productive dialogue to challenge exclusionary conceptions of leadership and encourage emerging leaders to represent perspectives that are often silenced. Collectively and openly exploring how we navigate leadership across gender, race, class and organizational boundaries is crucial if we aim to create positive social change.
Sandra Frink, associate professor, History; director, Women’s and Gender Studies
Does gender have anything to do with effective leadership? No. Women don’t lead differently because they are women. Although women are often presumed to possess certain qualities that can translate into effective leadership, accepting these constructs as inherent and reifying them as “women’s leadership qualities” merely reinforces stereotypes, while doing nothing to change leadership structures or end gender discrimination.
There are many ways to lead, and I hope our leadership center not only provides women the skills and insights to do so, but also works to interrogate and dismantle discriminatory systemic assumptions and practices related to women, men and leadership.
Amanda Putnam, associate professor; chair, Professional and Liberal Studies:
Women are earning undergraduate and graduate degrees at ever-increasing rates, and yet they ascend slowly into leadership positions within most industries. But as educated women enter positions of power, they change the face of leadership, as well as what characteristics are associated with it. My hope is that girls and young women observing current female leaders will soon be able to #MeToo with a completely different type of shared experience than currently represented — that of gendered social justice as well as female leadership.
To learn more about the Roosevelt Women’s Leadership Center, please contact Regina Buccola at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 341–2400.