Success and Mentoring at the UW
Vice Provost, Planning & Budgeting
I think the University of Washington’s commitment to gender diversity can be expressed as a success when looking at the current leadership of the University. The executive vice president, provost, and senior vice president positions are currently held by women, and looking at all senior positions (deans, vice provosts, and vice presidents), 45 percent of these positions are currently held by women. While we can be proud of our success to date, it is important that we continue to push for and ensure gender equity at all levels of the organization.
At the Office of Planning and Budgeting, I have six direct reports on my management team; four of these positions are held by women. In discussing further leadership opportunities with this group and next-generation female leaders in my organization, it does seem that there are certain areas we could focus on to further our success in gender equity.
In reviewing articles and interviews with Sheryl Sandberg, I was struck by her comparison of how men and women view their success. Her generalization that women view success based on working hard, luck, and assistance from others, while men view their success based on their own core skill, really resonated with me. I think this is a very valid observation. Without dwelling on whose approach might be more accurate or fair, it is clear that those with leadership ambitions might undermine themselves by not taking enough credit for their success. Those in management can help by publicly acknowledging staff members not only for their hard work but for their specific core skills, and by coaching and encouraging current and next-generation leaders to appropriately articulate their accomplishments and champion their contributions.
In talking about Lean In and related issues within my office, there is a sense it would be invaluable for all next-generation leaders at the UW—but especially women—to be afforded the opportunity of a mentor. Formal or informal, ensuring that individuals on a leadership path have a mentor will foster our continued success in gender equity. As an example, a story shared by a member of my staff:
I have been lucky with not just one but two sponsors early on in my career, whereas many women I know never have any. For me, this has meant someone who would pull me aside after a meeting and tell me I spoke too negatively about my ideas before sharing them with others. It has been someone that would insist I "sit at the table", literally, with my peers—especially early on. Someone who would listen to me talk through a problem and, instead of giving me their solution, would ask me questions to lead to my own conclusion and then support that action. Many of these little moves help provide that confidence in skills and knowledge that Sandberg so eagerly discusses and are essential in the role of the development of a leader.
Both of my sponsors have been male, which leaves me wondering, Where are the female leaders that are training the next generation? I have looked around, particularly in higher education administration, to see where mid-career and executive-level females are, and while I see a few, I see very few of them acting in a sponsor-type role. So how can we, as a community, develop not only future leaders but also future sponsors that will in turn develop the next generation of female leaders?
I think her comments express a direction I hope we can undertake in professional development across the campus. Providing our next generation of female leaders a mentor opportunity will hopefully allow them to understand that, as Sandberg points out, succeeding as a leader, while certainly aided by hard work, luck, and the help of others, depends upon the assets each individual brings to the table. It is your core skills as an individual—male or female—that are the foundation of leadership. A mentor is key to allowing the individual to recognize, value, and refine their core skills.