Women’s Leadership for the 21st Century
By Carmen Twillie Ambar
PDF of position paper
It’s a simple, short phrase. But as we continue to rethink our College for the 21st century, we must refine what we mean by "women’s leadership" and then–purposefully and powerfully–begin to shape the next generation of women leaders.
For some time, Cedar Crest has been a place where our students develop leadership skills. Through academic courses, student-life programming, athletics, activities, and pre-professional practices, this College has been a place to grow students into leaders. Our women’s college status has ensured that our students have more leadership opportunities, more of a chance to truly practice leadership, and a greater expectation of leading placed upon them by faculty and staff. It has been leadership by absorption in some ways, and it has been successful. But in this new, more competitive environment, a targeted effort in women’s leadership must be our approach for the 21st century.
It is still the case that many years before our students arrive at Cedar Crest they already believe that a scientist, by definition, is a man.i By all accounts, the gender-earnings gap continues to be real and significant.ii The elusive higher echelons of business are more open, but still only 2.4 percent of female CEOs head Fortune 500 companies.iii Moreover, in 2009 only 16.3 percent of our members of Congress are womeniv–(a record number)–and we have yet to break the presidential gender barrier.
Despite our incredible progress, there are still not enough images of women in leadership. I would posit that we simply must have more women leaders, because images create possibilities, and all of us need images to confirm what we hope to achieve is indeed possible.
What is Cedar Crest’s role in frankly creating more women leaders and in creating these possibilities? I believe that answer lies at the heart of our educational experience.
In the second stage of a progressive strategic planning process, faculty and staff at Cedar Crest have presented ideas for consideration designed to reshape our students’ academic and student life experience. More than 80 proposals have been submitted and the ideas include: a women’s institute, professional certificate programs, a global center, health and wellness initiatives, programs focused on civic engagement, new undergraduate majors, master’s degree programs, and campus living-learning communities, to name a few. While we will not be able to adopt and implement all 80 proposals, it is the breadth of these ideas that will translate Cedar Crest’s past and current outstanding efforts in women’s leadership into the future.
Additionally, at the core of many of the new, remaining or expanded ideas is the College’s reconnection to the liberal arts. Emphasizing a broad spectrum of learning will give us the chance to produce women leaders across the lines of professional and social roles. Emerging will be the artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, philosophers, nurses, writers, clergy, doctors, philanthropists, and lawyers of the next decades. Our message to current and future Cedar Crest students in every discipline will be that they can achieve at the highest level in any field they choose, they can choose fields where women are underrepresented and be supported in this endeavor, and they can reshape society by the images of success that they become. Plainly put, they can.
This fall, a Women’s Leadership Series began at Cedar Crest to join students, alumnae, faculty, and staff in forums and events that capture some vital principles:
- Developing a greater understanding of the connection between leadership and success
- Enhancing self-confidence and emotional intelligence
- Discovering the importance of building consensus when making important decisions
- Embracing a passion-driven, not career-driven, approach to professional endeavors
- Developing a greater understanding of the connection between leadership and service to others
Looking forward, I believe these fundamentals will direct Cedar Crest College as we continue to refine the phrase "women’s leadership"—purposefully and powerfully.
It’s a simple, short phrase that carries a depth so great that we have only begun to refine what it means here at Cedar Crest and to understand where it will lead. Stay with us for the journey.
i National Science Foundation reports that by the 4th grade, both male and female students will select a male in a lab coat to answer the question, “What does a scientist look like?