It's Not Easy, Being [Queen]

It's Not Easy, Being [Queen]

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1891-4.ch003

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Some leaders are born women. - Geraldine Ferraro

On June 6, 2016, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, head of Studio Ghibli (producer of such famous animated films as “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and “My Neighbor Tortoro”) stated that the studio was unlikely to hire women directors because women are better at managing day-to-day affairs and are very realistic, whereas men are more idealistic and fantastical, and animation needs the second approach (Michael, 2016). It’s hard to know where to begin to deconstruct that comment, given how inaccurate it is. However the sad part is that people, people in powerful positions, still think that way, in the current times. We can’t think of any better statement to illustrate both the positive and negative characteristics that are attributed to women and their abilities in positions of leadership.

In this chapter, we hope to discuss both the challenges and joys of being a female department chair. Maranto and Griffin (2011) posit that women faculty in higher education face a “chilly,” exclusionary working environment in the academy. Despite this climate, as women, we are still expected to fulfill all of the same responsibilities as male department chairs, but we complete these tasks differently sometimes, and sometimes in the same manner. Also, the people we lead often perceive that we perform our jobs differently than men, when we may or may not. Of course, there are also the hidden expectations that are put upon women department chairs that male chairs do not experience. Much like the “hidden curriculum” in schools and education, there exists an unspoken set of expectations for women department chairs, whether other constituents overtly recognize it or not. These extra duties of the job are perhaps the most frustrating and infrequently addressed aspects of being a female department chair and are what we focus on here.


So What Exactly Is The Female Perspective?

We often hear that it’s important to have the female perspective on both large and small decisions – that it’s important to bring the “female voice” to the table. But what exactly does that mean? Women department chairs are often put in the difficult position of representing the perspective of their gender on institutional decisions and it’s a heavy load to bear. Not to mention that we’re not even sure what’s expected of us when this (hopefully) well-intended tokenism occurs. To be honest, half the time we don’t know what “the female perspective” is either, although we can certainly give our own perspectives on decisions, initiatives, goals, and ideas. Admittedly though, the opinions that we give are often formed based on things we know about our own gender and the responsibilities, preferences, and functioning that make up women in higher education. Having thought long and hard about what the particular lens women might bring to decisions made in the academy, we are able to give some concrete examples that might help to illustrate this phenomenon. For instance, when a new committee for an initiative is being formed, and setting a meeting schedule, it might be pertinent to have women in the group to ensure that the meeting schedule is not set during evening hours, when women often have (or prefer to have) time with their families. Another, very, very, important example is contract negotiations around the idea of sick time and maternity leave. All too often when women in the academy become pregnant, they are forced to take sick leave when the time comes to give birth. We have seen this happen repeatedly and can’t help but marvel at the fact that women aren’t sick when they give birth, they are simply pregnant. So why are they forced to take sick leave for such an important event? Men don’t need to do this when children are born into their families. We can’t help but think that if a woman was at that negotiating table, maternity leave would be an option for women when and after they give birth, as well as perhaps paternity leave for male partners and spouses.

The above are just a few examples of the unique perspective women bring to decision-making in the academy. There are many others, but suffice it to say that it’s important that everyone in higher education needs to think about having diverse perspectives brought to the table when important decisions are being made. It’s clear that including a variety of lenses through which to view any plan, proposal, project, or program, adds both breadth and depth to whatever it is that is brought to the table (Van Knippenberg & Schippers, 2007). We think it’s time to think of decision-making in higher education more like a buffet rather than an a la carte menu or worse, a prefix table d’hôte.

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