Personal Reflection - As a woman in senior management
I have just said this to a group of 800 teenagers over the weekend. My alma mater, my secondary school and my primary school had organized its 165th anniversary events, and there are now eleven schools in that system, and there were 800 students coming together, and they asked me a similar sort of question. It was wonderful to hear it from a ten-year-old primary four student.
For me, some of the challenges have related to age and gender, at different points in time. I was a very young dean, and I might have said this in my previous interview, please stop me if I have, but when I was appointed dean of a faculty with about 400 faculty members at that point in time and about 7,000 students, a senior colleague said to me, I am used to working with people with 35 years of experience, not 35 years of age. And that was a wake-up call for me, because I had never thought about age as a factor, and I realized at that point in time that it did matter to some people, and that I had to demonstrate a certain depth and gravitas, in order to win their respect.
At other points in time, it has really been about how, as a woman, you have care responsibilities. I said this to the 10-year-old student over the weekend, that childbirth is the sole responsibility, in a sense, of women because the man cannot take that responsibility. Childcare need not be the sole responsibility, but often it is the primary responsibility of women. And eldercare need not be, but it is also often primarily the responsibility of women. So, everything that people say about juggling the responsibilities at home and in the workplace are completely true.
How do we deal with that? Supportive colleagues are a big part of that. That at times when there is a dire situation at home, that your colleagues are willing to step in, and more than pull their weight. At other times when things are good on the home front, you must be willing to step in for other people, and that has to be manifested on a daily basis for the group dynamic to work.
It is true that with heavy responsibilities, whether as a provost or president, there are sceptics. There are sceptics who will say—you can’t do this, how can you do this? —not because you don’t have the ability, but because you have other responsibilities. It was a question that I deliberated very carefully. If I didn’t think that I had a chance of making this work well, then I shouldn’t take the responsibility. But the moment I take the responsibility, I have to then learn to manage the time, to give and take, to know when to rely and when to support.