Women’s Leadership Program and Campus Integration

Since Spring 2013, multiple faculty and staff members have approached me and asked for a women’s leadership program. In Summer 2013, I started researching the unique concerns and strategies for circumnavigating them, particularly in academia. I learned more about the unparalleled familial support network that males have for entering into leadership and the constraints on the negotiation tactics women can use — not just for salaries or raises, but equally importantly, for the daily negotiations in teamwork, committee work, and even interactions with friends and family. After developing a strong enough knowledge base to ask questions, I conducted cross-campus interviews with faculty and staff to develop a better understanding of their specific needs and interests.

Many have asked me why I as a man have pushed so hard for this program. Particularly after reading the literature, I strongly support the cause. But based on my experiences with other leadership programs, I also recognized the importance and opportunity of a cohort program that can connect diverse areas of the university. I’m constantly thinking of ways to improve the university’s capacity for cross-campus knowledge transfers, resource sharing, and other collaborations. The more ways we can integrate faculty, professional staff, and non-professional staff, the better prepared the university will be for responding to external threats or opportunities.

Although we have done an excellent job of integrating different departments and academic colleges, we have not yet expanded our integration to include staff. For nearly two years, I have explored ways to include staff in our existing programs. Differences in approval hierarchies, pay structures, and especially cultures thwarted every attempt. I may be wrong, but I suspect the Women’s Leadership Program (WLP) overcame those differences because people stopped thinking of themselves as faculty or staff and started thinking of themselves as women — and then the men either supported it or got the heck out of the way. Whatever the reason, instead of thinking why not, people started figuring out how to.

Meanwhile, the WLP can build channels between faculty, professional staff, and administrative staff that will enable other integrative programs to navigate the system. It sets a precedent.

Unfortunately, the program’s timing thwarted my ability to see it to fruition. My office assumed a large amount of responsibility for the New Faculty Program and the highly ambitious Quality Enhancement Plan. I was asked not to roll out new programs.

With prior approval, I sought champions and initiated conversations with the faculty and staff senates to co-house the program. Before the senates could vote, the program’s champions proliferated, to the point of potentially tearing apart the program. Across campus, people made appointments to discuss the program’s design and funding without including each other or other essential stakeholders in the conversation. Rather than wait until the program had a proper home that could institutionalize it, I chose to appoint program co-directors, one faculty and one staff member, who could manage the champions and see the program to implementation. I gave them the names of program champions, the names of other stakeholders, the list of interviewee requests, and the program design I created.

One of the co-directors is a graduate of this spring’s Faculty Leadership Program, so I see this handing-off process at least in part as a continuation of that professional development.

As I saw today in the information session with the Staff Senate, the co-directors are working as a team, and the program design already is starting to change. Although I take pride in my design, their changing it means the co-directors have taken ownership over it. The change is good. It is a sign of life.

So now I will lose decision-making abilities, fall-out of the information loop, and watch with anticipation, and even a sense of loss, to see in what unpredictable ways the program will develop and grow.

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Ownership over Self-Development

This week I pitched to the Faculty Senate the idea of the faculty and staff senates’ collaboratively housing a women’s leadership program. I made a case for creating a professional-development program that is truly self-development and which fosters not only cross-campus knowledge transfer, but also inter-divisional collaborations and resource sharing that can strengthen the entire institution. Equally importantly, the university has an opportunity to visibly demonstrate its support for women in leadership. Faculty questions were limited; it was a lot to take-in. Still, through individual discussions, I learned some primary concerns.

On the one hand, we as a university suffer from both insufficient funds for new professional staff and a worry about administrative bloat. On the other, the faculty have had to harbor more and more administrative responsibilities, part of a growing trend of reframing faculty as academic professionals with a growing number of non-teaching responsibilities. Within the context of the senates’ co-owning this program, at least some senators privately expressed concern about the latter.

That’s a legitimate problem. The program I’ve proposed is not a simple one. One faculty member and one staff member would serve as co-coordinators and co-facilitators. Based on my initial cross-campus interviews, we can roll out a series of workshops on requested topics — interviewing, negotiation, building a support structure … — while fostering a sense of both cohort and campus community, the latter via diverse campus contributors. Early in the semester, each participant would shadow another participant in a different university division and report back to the rest of the group, which would improve cross-institutional cultural understanding. After meeting for 3.5 hours every other week for five sessions, the cohort should have bonded enough to pursue as a team an intrinsically-motivated charge, such as investigating a personal frustration that negatively impacts student success and is a high priority for the institution to address. The charge would enable the cohort to develop teamwork skills, learn more about the university, cultivate an understanding of institutional priority, and possibly inspire champions for their cause.

One faculty member privately expressed concern that the program’s design would overtax the faculty and staff coordinators. Although we would hope to reward the coordinators with more than a line on the C.V. — for example, by using state and institutional diversity-grant funds to support their attending a state or national leadership retreat — we wouldn’t be able to promise them anything since we’d have to secure those funds after they’ve started. This faculty member rightfully questioned what would happen if a coordinator’s interest faded in the face of a high workload coupled with uncertain or no reward.

Still, I learned through my campus interviews and private conversations that, with or without a home, this or a similar program will happen. The demand is so high that even if the senates rejected the project and the administration couldn’t take ownership of it, individual faculty and staff would assume responsibility on their own. It would become a grassroots program.

While that fact in itself is truly beautiful, an institutionally homeless grassroots initiative sends the wrong message. It implies, the institution does not value women’s leadership.

The real problem has nothing to do with campus desire to support the program. Although we can pursue university and state diversity grants, people do not want to put an organizational name on something without that specific organization’s appropriately funding it. Meanwhile, the entire campus has committed its resources to an ambitious Quality Enhancement Plan and other student-success efforts.

We have other formal avenues if the senates do not assume responsibility for the program. But I hope faculty and staff senators recognize the opportunity and seize it. A women’s leadership program co-owned by the senates has greater significance than one housed in a different area. It says, We the employees of this university have united for more than information gathering or problem-solving. We have united to act for own our destiny.