As leaders in a leadership Ed.D. program, what legal/regulatory/policy changes do you think you would like to see to address inequalities, particularly gender inequality? What’s most realistic? And, most importantly, how can you be a leader for this kind of change?
Before we can effect real change and enact more equitable policies, laws, and regulations regarding gender (and really all minority groups for that matter); there needs to be a dramatic shift in our collective mindset that starts with busting stereotypes. In thinking about how this transformation can begin taking place, I suggest focusing on the following two practices.
The first way that I think progress in equality can be accomplished is by overhauling our civics/social studies instruction to represent the makeup of our society. When I think back to the women that I learned about in my early education; I recall Betsy Ross (who was known for sewing and being subordinate to men) and Amelia Earhart. That’s really about it. I remember writing a book report about Amelia Earhart in fifth grade because my male teacher, who in my fifth grade opinion was a male chauvinist pig, bragged to the class and was proud of the fact that no girl had ever received an “A” from him. That, and the fact, that he would not let me play kickball with the boys in the class, caused me to choose Amelia Earhart as my written report subject because she proved that she was just as good as male pilots, if not better—and I was going to “Amelia Earhart” the #@(% out of this written report. Needless to say, I got that “A”. By having her as a role model and someone that I could see myself in, I developed the mindset early on that I could do and accomplish whatever I set my mind to regardless of my gender. Throughout the reading of our text Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work (Thomas, 2016), I kept wondering why I had not heard of any of these women before even though they accomplished great feats. I found myself Googling them to find out more about them and seeing what they looked like so that I could connect with them better.
Since I have not been involved in K-12 education since I left it, I had assumed that social studies instruction had changed to become more equitably representative than what I had experienced. Even though in my field of adult education I have been uncovering that our civics instruction needs to be reconfigured in order to be more representative of our learners, I would have thought that K-12 was ahead of the game on this matter. I was shocked to read a 2018 study by Waters and Magliocca who examined their newly revised middle school world history state standards for the representation and inclusion of women set to be implemented for the 2019-2020 school year. In their reasoning for undertaking the study, they aligned with my viewpoint when they said, “like many other marginalized groups, women often struggle to find their voices and stories illuminated in the dominant narratives of world history, which typically were crafted by men” (p. 192). Their findings “uncovered a disappointing, though not altogether surprising, maintenance of the status quo regarding a lack of female presence in the content standards” (pp. 192-193). Waters and Magliocca’s (2018) study is also not an isolated one. They offer examples from seven other studies that point to the lack of female representation in contemporary social studies curricula. They stress that the social studies curriculum needs to be reimagined and broadened to include more voices that have impacted history. They point out:
The value of gender history is that it shows that the characteristics of both genders are socially constructed. Women’s history not only adds women to the story; it changes the story told of men. Studying women’s history can change the way we look at U.S. or global history, challenging facile conclusions reached by leaving half the population out of the story. (p. 194)
Therefore, it is clear that there needs to be serious attention given to addressing this lack of representation in our educational standards and curriculum currently being taught in our schools. By providing students with the opportunities to make these connections, they will be able to make sense of society, their place in it, and how they can influence policy that represents them.
A second practice that I think needs to be undertaken involves women supporting women. Throughout my career, I have experienced that, more often than not, it is far easier to work with men than women. This has bothered me and I have thought a lot about this issue. I think about how women in the U.S. tend to tear down those who reach high positions rather than support them. How in the world did so many women vote for a misogynistic candidate in the 2018 election over one of their own who would have undoubtedly improved the interests of all women throughout her time in office?
Professor, author, and organizational consultant Dr. Shawn Andrews (2020, 2019) offers some insights into why women oftentimes have difficulty supporting other women. She talks about a subconscious phenomenon called the “power dead-even rule” (unpaged) whereby in order for women to have a healthy relationship with each other, there is an invisible natural law that dictates how each relates to the other. She explains that a woman needs to see the other as being equal in power and self-esteem. If there is a power differential, the woman with less power will seek balance by attempting to bring the other female down. Andrews (2020) also points to the “Queen Bee Syndrome” (unpaged) where women at high leadership levels tend to act more like a stereotypical male by being assertive and tough in order to differentiate themselves from other women and stand out. Still another reason that women often do not support other women is because of competition. When there are only a few spots at the top, women are not as likely to bring other women into their sphere for fear that another female might move in and jeopardize their standing.
Due to the hard-fought battle to achieve a high-ranking position, Andrews (2020) points out that females have not been very responsive in mentoring and supporting other women. She (2019) proposes that women should be creating informal networks in order to build relationships and trust with other women, especially women who do not look or act like each other. In their book Women Kind: Unlocking the Power of Women Supporting Women, Ferguson and Fox (2018), posit that:
Women’s support for each other has the power to keep challenging sexism and harassment at a critical time for women’s rights [and] if we can leverage this collective social impact, we can circumvent the diversity dead-ends in organisations to produce a fairer playing field for all. (p. 14)
If we, as women, cannot begin to change our practice and stop being afraid to take risks to help each other and celebrate when other women get ahead; then the status quo will not improve in our favor—and policies, regulations, and laws will not change. Moreover, as New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said, “If the full contribution of women to economies and societies isn’t realized, it’s not only women who won’t reach their full potential—whole countries won’t reach their full potential” (Ferguson & Fox, 2016, p. 21).
So for me, personally, as a leader; what can I do? I must admit that I grapple with the amount of time and energy that is needed to mentor other women. As I said, it is a lot easier to deal with men and concentrate on getting myself up the ladder. However, that is not the type of leader that I want to be. I wholeheartedly believe that when you elevate others, you, in turn, elevate yourself whether you reap any tangible rewards or not. I believe that as a leader one should intentionally incorporate the practice of affirming and elevating others, especially those who may have less advantages and opportunities. I also need to check myself and my biases as to why I may react negatively to someone, especially other women. Why might I have such a reaction? Where is it coming from? Is my reaction because I feel threatened for whatever reason? Would I feel differently if I got to know that person better? Finally, as a leader, I need to champion the successes of other women. The more evidence of women supporting each other’s successes can help normalize it and hopefully move the needle towards changing mindsets which is ultimately what is needed in order to change policy, regulations, and laws in support of all minority genders, including women.
Andrews, S. (2020, January 21). Why women don’t always support other women. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/01/21/why-women-dont-always-support-other-women/?sh=3f63cd063b05
Andrews, S. (2019, November 21). Leadership, gender and the power of in-group bias. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2019/11/21/leadership-gender-and-the-power-of-in-group-bias/?sh=2a1d308e16d7
Ferguson, K., & Fox, C. (2018). Women kind: unlocking the power of women supporting women. Murdoch Books Pty Limited. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.library.vcu.edu/lib/vcu/detail.action?docID=5495791
Thomas, G. (2016). Because of sex: One law, ten cases, and fifty years that changed American women’s lives at work. St. Martin’s Press.
Waters, S., & Magliocca, A. (2018). Times up world history: Broadening the world history narrative. The Social Studies, 109(4), 192–201. https://doi.org/10.1080/00377996.2018.1514361