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November 14, 2007

Interview with June Nobbe - Women in Leadership

Alex: So why teach a workshop about women in leadership?

June: The last time that we did this two years ago, there were at least probably 40 people that showed up. I anticipated a smaller group and was quite shocked to see that there was a very large turnout. It was a difficult session to run because I was trying to tailor it to individual interests and needs, but it was such a big group. The turnout was pretty telling in terms of it being a topic of interest.

I think that even though things have changed a lot. I think that women still feel some challenges around the area of leadership. I think more than anything they really are interested in hearing from other people who have more life experience about what our journeys have been. I think there is a desire for people to hear from women who have gone before them about what our path has been and what have we learned along the way, so Maureen and I are going to spend more time doing that in this session.

Alex: Can you give an example of a struggle you’ve faced as a woman in leadership roles?

June: Well I think what really resonates for me when I look at books written about women in leadership, is the concept of the “double bind?—our society has certainly come to a place where traits that are more on the feminine side—things like collaboration, empowerment, team-oriented kind of approaches to leadership –are certainly become more acceptable and even more effective in this current society. I see that here at the U as well, that those traits are definitely really effective forms of leadership given where we are at today. However, I think that men who exhibit those kind of feminine traits are given accolades for being that way, but yet when women exhibit more male characteristics of leadership—being a little more assertive, aggressive, decision makers, more “power over?—for men, that is seen as still acceptable, but for women that is seen as a negative thing. So they call it the double bind where women are rewarded for female traits of leadership, but if they exhibit male traits, that is seen as negative. This is not the case for men.

Alex: So what is the future then of where you see women in leadership; what does the next 10 years look like in terms of change from where we are now?

June: Well I think certainly what we are seeing in the political landscape right now is telling. If you think about that Hillary Clinton, whether or not you are for or against Democrats, the fact that she is an actual, genuine, viable candidate leading the pack right now is a significant milestone. I think women do need to pave the way, and I think that if she makes a good run for the presidency and is credible in that process, which she has been so far, I think that will be a huge step whether or not she wins.

If you look at presidents in the context of higher education, we see more and more big Universities that now have female presidents. Purdue is an example, they have a female president right now, and she is doing a great job in terms of fund-raising. My brother, who is 60+, from an older generation, was talking so highly of her. He never talked at all about the fact that it was a deficit that she was female. All he talked about what was her strong leadership.

So I think things are definitely shifting and changing—you see more women in the corporate arena. I think the other area is the challenge of women that choose to have families. Women who want to do both and are trying to find an effective balance to be able to do both and do them well, I think is a real struggle. I think that will be a challenge for women in the future. I think both corporate and non-profit are recognizing the importance of having family-friendly environments, but there are still personal struggles. There are still challenges for women who make a decision to stay home when their children are younger and then try to re-enter the work force.

Alex: Is that something that you will be able to address in your workshop?

June: Well a big part of my story is how I’ve created balance in my own life, but that is based on my own value system and choices that I made that were good for me. I’m a better mom because I worked, I think if I were at home with my kids full-time I would not have been a good mom—but I see it as more of a challenge for people who really want to be at home, but they work because they feel like they have to either for financial reasons or otherwise, and you can see the tug and pull. Given the demands of where the economy is at right now, I just don’t know that a lot of women are going to have a choice to stay at home if they want to do that—they may not have a financial ability to do that.

Alex: Are there a few specific things that you think people will need to learn about women in leadership? Maybe things they might learn from your workshop or things you think people might just need to know in general?

June: The focus of the workshop will be on sharing our experiences and discussing questions and concerns that the participants bring to the workshop.—Maureen has worked in the health care industry and she was also the chair of the University Board of Regents which is a very public, high profile position. We'll be sharing what we've learned and tips we will share. We'll also be providing a resource handout. We're anxious to hear what students have to say about this topic and to problem-solve together as a group.

Alex: Awesome! Well thank you very much.