Photograph of Ujima Donalson

A Message from Ujima Donalson
Assistant Vice President, Total Talent Management

In this issue of The Leading Edge, we are paying homage to Women’s History Month with content that celebrates women leaders and honors women in the workplace. Women leadership is strong at the UW, from the president to deans, vice presidents, unit directors, administrators and team leads, and I’m proud to work at an institution that has more gender equity than many private sector companies.

For a number of years now, I’ve been quietly asked by leaders from across the University whether POD might consider offering a specific workshop or conference for women leaders. While we haven’t done so explicitly, I believe that leadership is a competency that is demonstrated differently, as expressed by the leader’s approach. Women in leadership may encounter different challenges than their male counterparts and in some instances may be required to flex or stretch more to “fit in” with the organizational culture or hierarchy — or be willing to push back. We honor this in many of our leadership development programs by teaching leaders to understand and honor their innate styles while also equipping them with tools and strategies to flex their style and speak their truths, as they so choose.

It’s often said that your reputation proceeds you, but in a large institution, it can be hard to make inroads or make a name for yourself. Here at the UW, what I’ve appreciated is a subtle network of women who have worked to help me acclimate to the culture. Rather than mentoring me in the traditional sense, these women have in effect sponsored me. They have spoken my name in their circles of influence and talked about my organization, professional practice and areas of expertise. In short, they have vouched for me, helped solidify my reputation and laid the groundwork that enabled me to more quickly build my own network.

I have always been an advocate for women in the workplace, whether formally or informally, and now that I have a number of years of experience at the UW, I feel myself called in the direction of sponsoring others. This opportunity for sponsorship reminds me of an African proverb that I often refer to when I teach the Strategic Leadership Program: We sit on an old mat weaving a new one.

This proverb evokes a number of images that appeal to me. One is the continuum, the idea that we are always growing and evolving, always moving towards something new. Another is the idea that we’re all on the same level and that I can, in effect, be helping to weave a new mat for someone else.

My view of sponsorship is that it gives us the opportunity to coach and help grow each other. There is not a one-way or hierarchical relationship of one person being the mentor or teacher; rather, at any time, one person might pivot and become the coach or guide.

Are you ready to sponsor others? If you have some experience here at the UW, it may be time to consider this call to action. I believe the more you can learn about individuals’ knowledge, skills, abilities and experience, the more ready you will be to speak their name, lend your professional credibility to theirs or vouch for what they or their team can accomplish. In other words, the more attuned you are to those in your circle, the more able you will be to start weaving the mat for someone else.

Winter 2020 | Return to Issue Home