Lessons Learned from My First Women in Higher Education Conference

BY ANGELA HOOKS

I have known about this conference for several years. I have been invited several times. I am always too busy to fit the conference on my schedule. I finally attended the Mid-Hudson Association of Women in Higher Education’s annual conference on Friday, October 5. Why did I go? I am navigating my career in a new direction, positioning myself as discussed in the book Niche Down. Was I satisfied? Yes.  The keynote speaker, Ilana Tolpin Levitt, affirmed the choices I’m making about my career as well as gave me a new perspective and new challenges in pursuit of having a better career.

The conference was held at The Grandview in Poughkeepsie, and 150 women were in attendance according to the host. These women hailed from local colleges in the Dutchess, Ulster, Orange County areas. The majority work in administration. I don’t work in administration. However, it’s part of my career path. I’m not aiming for a seat as president or vice president as Dr. Merget of Culinary Institute of America expressed in her welcome, not all women want that type of responsibility. “The higher you go, the less connected you become to what you really want to do because there are competing priorities,” added Mrs. Levitt, author of What’s Mom Still Got to Do with it? Breathe New Life into Your Career By Understanding Your Mother-Daughter Relationship. Still women in leadership roles in high education “juggle complex and evolving pressures.” Mrs. Levitt, who has labored 26 years in the field of Higher Education, presented strategies and debunked myths about managing career advancements for women.

 

As a daughter can you imagine that your leadership style has been impacted by your mother? Thus, as a mother, your leadership style impacts your daughter or daughters. A new perspective for me, considering my first boss was my mother. She owned and managed a hair salon, where I worked first as shampoo girl then later as a licensed cosmetologist but never as a manager. A position I coveted. I have two twenty-something-year-old daughters, who are “killing it.” They are movers and shakers demanding salaries and landing leadership roles. My eldest daughter said, “Mom, you’re our inspiration. We’re watching you.” I didn’t realize that.

This is why Mrs. Levitt’s presentation offered new outlooks for women in leadership because whatever is holding you back as a woman in leadership possibly stemmed from the relationship with your mother. She said, “Mothers are role models, and women’s career development is tied to their mother’s relationship.”

Levitt created and presented five types of daughters and based on their attitude in the workplace: Ivy, Maverick, Butterfly, Copycat, and Bootstrap. Ivy believes “It’s everyone else, not me.” She’s had too much mothering and is difficult to work with. Maverick says, “Don’t tell me what to do.” She’s in a perpetual state of an adolescent. Butterfly feels as though she’s an imposter because her mother was emotionally available but not able to be a role model in her career. Copycat moves in the same direction as her mother; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree or does it. Bootstrap has the weight of the world on her shoulders. She takes care of her mother. Her motto, “If I can do it you can too.”

It’s possible that I am a Copycat and so is one of my daughters; as entrepreneurs, we need freedom and space to organize and operate a business and take risks. I’m a literary artist and independent scholar, who teaches writing and literature not a cosmetologist like my mother. My daughter is a creative director and graphic designer, and she’s not in higher education. Yet, we are moving in the general direction of each other with an entrepreneurial spirit in which passion and mission motivate us for the greater good, despite the risk.

Here’s another insight, how does this affect our relationship with our supervisors in the workplace. Once again, Ilana shares insights into these relationships, presenting four types of bosses: nice, action, practical, and big picture. Sometimes, you are just like your boss, and sometimes you are opposite. However, in leadership, you have to learn to work with those personality types and remember work dynamics mirror family dynamics. One participant shared that she has a boss how is practical—plans and analyzes every detail. She said, she listens because she is from a family of 11 and she was talked over and not always heard, therefore, she learned to listen. She holds herself back.

Why do we as women hold ourselves back? Myths we tell ourselves such as women who speak their minds are bossy or a story in our life that tells us what we can or cannot do. Sometimes it’s its money messages: money is power, money can’t buy you happiness, you don’t know how to handle money. Perhaps, it’s our communication style.

  • As women in leadership here are a few strategies, Ilana offered:

  • Learn to say no, do not overcompensate and become resentful.

  • Maintain relationships and integrity, learn to manage not manipulate people and situations.

  • Be the expert and show authority.

  • Challenge your own unconscious bias.

  • Manage change and expand expectations; take a year to get to know your job.

  • Be aligned with your values.

  • Own and embrace your strengths and weaknesses.

  • Get a mentor.

  • Embrace change.

The final takeaway Mrs. Ilana Levitt presented: “As women, we should not be intimated by women. Yes, women bosses are hard to work for because they worked hard to get in that position.” Simultaneously as women, we want equity in leadership.

One thing I know for sure, one doesn’t have to be a woman in higher education to understand that leadership takes hard work, choices, and balances.

I look forward to applying some of these techniques to my career and positioning myself instead of being positioned.

What about you? What’s your next step as a woman in leadership at home, at work, in church or for an organization?

Check out What's Mom Still Got To Do With It?: Breathe New Life into Your Career By Understanding Your Mother-Daughter Relationship

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Pamela Flores