Expectations of Equality Women in Educational Leadership

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“Expectations of Equality: Women in Educational Leadership” Delivered by Beverley Byers-Pevitts, Ph.D. President, Park University March 14, 2006 It is my distinct privilege to address you today on the topic “Expectations of Equality: Women in Educational Leadership,” at this SHELF Conference. I would like to thank Central Missouri State University’s Office of Community Engagement for organizing such an important and powerful event. To see women of my generation connecting here reminds me of the
  “Expectations of Equality: Women in Educational Leadership”Delivered by Beverley Byers-Pevitts, Ph.D.President, Park UniversityMarch 14, 2006 It is my distinct privilege to address you today on the topic “Expectations of Equality: Women in Educational Leadership,” at this SHELF Conference. I wouldlike to thank Central Missouri State University’s Office of Community Engagement for organizing such an important and powerful event.To see women of my generation connecting here reminds me of the remarkable progress that women in our society have made as well as the challenges that we still face.We come together in the month of March, Women’s History Month. Many braveand extraordinary women, some of whom I will cite in this speech, paved the way for future generations of girls and women to realize their greatness.On Saturday, the eleventh current woman chief of state worldwide, MichelleBachelet, was sworn in as president of Chile. She is Chile’s first woman president andhas promised and delivered gender equality in appointments to government posts.According to the 2005 Fortune 500 list, 19 women serve as CEOs of Fortune 500companies. Just a few years ago it was only 5 (FIVE) and although we know the glassceiling has great cracks and some holes in it, it still needs complete shattering. We mustdo that through education!  Education continues to enable women to advance to be CEOsand heads of state. And our numbers increase as women continue to advance toleadership positions in a whole variety of fields, including higher education. In 2000, the American Council on Education conducted a major national surveyof college and university presidents. Of the 2,341 presidents who responded, 19 percentwere women. In 1986 the total percent of women college and university presidents was9.5. Of the 4,200 colleges and universities in the United States today, 24% are led bywomen; for community colleges, 26% are led by women.In the Kansas City area, there are currently seven women leaders of higher education institutions: Kathleen Collins, President at the Kansas City Art Institute, Karen Pletz, President at the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, Merna Saliman, President at Maple Woods Community College, Jackie Snyder,Chancellor of the Kansas City Metropolitan Community Colleges (Jackie is the firstwoman appointed chancellor in the 90-year history of MCC), Sister  Diane Steele,President at the University of Saint Mary, Barbara Atkinson, Executive ViceChancellor, the University of Kansas Medical Center and myself, the first woman president of Park. This number of women leaders in K.C. higher education willincrease to eight (8) when Patricia Long assumes the presidency of Baker Universityin July. She will become Baker’s first woman president in the School’s 148-yearhistory.  I don’t know of anywhere else in the country with this high of concentrationof women leaders in higher education. Now, this seems like a great cover story for The Chronicle of Higher Education or perhaps The Kansas City Star  ! These heads of state, corporate executives, university CEOs – regardless of the profession, these women leaders have advanced to the highest levels through education,mentorship or both. Someone helped pave the way for each leader and also encouragedthe traditional and non-traditional education for that individual!The great American artist Georgia O’Keeffe said, “Where I was born and whereand how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that  should be of interest  .” I might add, “It’s education that paved the way!”Today, I want to focus on traditional education and lifelong learning and howthese two forms of education relate to leadership opportunities for women.A new national campaign, “Solutions for Our Future,” will be launchedtomorrow by the American Council on Education to inform all Americans about theincredible value of higher education for our country's future success. “In addition to preparing individuals for employment, higher education prepares students to beresponsible citizens and produce innovations that fuel economic development. Studentslearn to think critically and solve the problems facing our country.”Lifelong learning is also essential for women who aspire to leadership positions.According to the World Bank, “Performing in the global economy and functioning in aglobal society requires mastery of technical, interpersonal, and methodological skills.” ã “Technical skills include literacy, foreign language, mathematics, science, problem-solving, and analytical skills.” ã “Interpersonal skills include teamwork, leadership, and communicationskills.” ã “Methodological skills include the ability to learn on one's own, to pursuelifelong learning, and to cope with risk and change.”In his best-selling book, The World is Flat, Tom Friedman, describes theflattening of the world due to globalization and notes “that we are now connecting all theknowledge centers on the planet together into a single network, which – if politics and terrorism do not get in the way – could usher in an amazing era of prosperity and innovation.” Women have great opportunities to succeed in the global knowledge economy inany fields they choose. Unfortunately, outdated beliefs and traditional cultural valuessometimes impede women’s progress, not only in developing countries, in this country aswell.  More than 200 years ago, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote, “Women are told fromtheir infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man, and should they be beautiful, everything else is needless, for, at least, twenty yearsof their lives.” To what extent has the world changed from the 18 th Century and to whatextent do traditional beliefs tether us and prevent us from achieving our full potential?Golda Meir, Israel’s first and to date only female prime minister, encounteredmany skeptics who did not believe that a woman could effectively lead a country. Sheonce said, “It's no accident many accuse me of conducting public affairs with my heart instead of my head. Well, what if I do? Those who don't know how to weep with their whole heart don't know how to laugh either.” Zora Neale Hurston once said, “Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It's beyond me.” Recently, columnist and journalist Anna Quindlen, in a commentary on theSupreme Court and recently retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said, “There is nowonly a single woman on the Court. Imagine the world if homes, businesses and schoolshad one woman for every eight men.” And I like reading the work of Dr. Margaret Wheatley, author and consultant whosays: “We’re living in a culture that’s telling us that the law of love is not  how the planet works.” As I speak, I represent to you several roles – woman, educator, administrator,university CEO and president, mother, sister, spouse – some are leadership roles. Rather than describing how these roles interact, let me share with you a fish story, a parable,which ties them together:When our son was in the heat of emerging adolescence, father and son set up asalt water fish tank in our den to promote family bonding. The first purchase was a lionfish – glorious, puffed up; full of himself; preening; billowing out his ornamental wing-like fins as he dominated his world of the tank.My mother came to visit. She took our son to the aquarium shop to buyadditional fish. They (indulging grandmother with eager grandson) brought home threevery expensive fish: ã An ornamental shrimp – light; airy, colorful, decorative, foolishlysuperfluously unaware of danger; ã A bright blue fish – which later disappeared; and ã A sea horse – she gracious; regal; delicately sturdy; determinedly aloof and aloft.  ã They placed the bag in the tank to acclimate and when the appropriatetime elapsed, released the three new fish to the tank. I watched in horror asthe lionfish circled the beautiful shrimp and within a nanosecond, had it inits mouth with the shrimp’s beautiful red feelers dangling down.The beautiful tropical blue and yellow fish darted at warp speed around the tank and hid behind artificial reefs and foliage; the seahorse ignored the lionfish as he circledher several times; then dashed in for the kill. He held her head in his mouth and shetossed and turned trying to escape his grasp; then finally, he let go, she wobbledsideways, sank to the bottom of the tank and remained quite still.Finally, the sea horse bobbled up, swam around crooked, not upright, and thenlike an Olympic ice skater returning to her program after a fall, straightened to her regalstance and swam at the top of the tank. The next morning the lion fish lay dead on thetank floor!The actor Ruth Maleczak, after playing Lear in Shakespeare’s  King Lear  in NewYork, said, “When a man has power, we take it for granted. But when a woman has power, we’re forced to look at the nature of power itself.”
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