Famous Five Leadership Speech May 18, 2006
‘Lead from the Heart’ by Gayla Rogers
I am honored to be here today. This invitation makes a statement about the range of women the Famous Five Foundation is interested in – and considering the leaders who came before me and the speakers to follow; these are big, beautiful and bold shoes to fill. Never mind trying to fill the shoes worn by Irene, Henrietta, Nellie, Louise, and Emily.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to co-chair with Shirali Saju, a Canadian Unity Event to create dialogue among faith communities in Calgary. I said in the opening, here we are – a man and a woman, a Muslim and a Jew, a businessman and an academic, an entrepreneur and a social worker - if we can bridge all these differences to co-chair an event, anything is possible. I want to talk today about possibilities – possibilities for women, for leadership, for my profession, for the future and for the path laid by these five brave and heroic women.
I lead one of the largest schools of Social Work in Canada and I’ve been the dean for eight years. The Faculty of Social Work offers the only social work degree in the province and we take seriously our mandate by taking the degree to Edmonton, Lethbridge and several other rural, northern and Aboriginal communities across Alberta. We are dedicated to changing lives, those of our students and the people they will serve; to finding solutions to society’s most challenging, messy and overlooked problems; and, to making a difference with people and communities, especially those who are vulnerable, troubled or traumatized. The Faculty has a vision of creating social well-being and just societies. To achieve that vision we must educate the next generation of social workers to make a meaningful contribution, and do the kind of research needed to face the disparities and the despair in this time of plenty, and in the times when that plenty has run its course.
I’m frequently asked why someone would go into social work – this is usually followed with some comment about social workers not making very much. I typically respond with a variation of a list published in an article called, “What do social workers make?” and I say:
They make a child believe that he is loved and wanted, regardless of how long he lasts in the next foster home.
They make a homeless person feel at home and valued in the world.
They make an abused woman find the courage to leave her abuser for good.
They make a man with schizophrenia see past his demons.
They make a dying cancer patient make peace with her past and find the strength to face her brief tomorrow.
What do they make?
They make forgotten people feel cherished, not-so-beautiful people feel beautiful, confused people feel understood, and broken people feel whole.
They make more than most people will ever make – they make a difference.
The first modern School of Social Work was founded in Berlin by a German Jew named Alice Salomon in 1908. Alice became active in the German women's movement in 1893 at the age of 21. After pioneering for the right of women to attend university, Alice’s doctoral work analyzed the inequality in pay for work between men and women. As Vice-President of the International Council of Women she traveled to Canada. Records indicate that in 1909 she spoke in Calgary and we know that Henrietta Muir Edwards was there. So the precedent was set long ago to have a dean of social work as a speaker. In1933, Alice Salomon was forced out of public office and in 1937 she was expelled from Germany by the Gestapo.
There is a Buddhist saying: When you drink of the clear water, think of the pure streams and when you eat of the fresh fruit, think of those who planted the seeds.
In thinking about the journey that led me here today, I have to consider my own historical context. My great grandmother’s family came to Calgary in 1905. There was a wave of immigration to southern Alberta from eastern Europe and Russia – many Jews took up homesteads, built businesses and began the task of creating a community. They were escaping persecution and seeking a better life, the courage and fortitude of these early settlers and first families is something to behold. By 1913 they had organized a welfare group so that no Jew in need in Calgary would be a burden to the public purse. The first Jewish wedding in Calgary, held in this very hotel in 1924, was the wedding of my great uncle.
My grandmother worked along side her husband in the general store in Blackie Alberta, near High River. They lived upstairs and while she minded her two children, did all the cooking and laundry, took in sewing, she also served and got to know her customers and neighbors across a wide rural region. My grandmother dreamed a different future for her daughters. My mother was sent to the ‘city’ to finish high school. She then went to University, got a degree and became a teacher here in Calgary. But once she got married, just after the War, the school board made it clear they didn’t want married women teaching and the minute you were pregnant, that was it.
My mother’s generation of women didn’t work outside the home – so what did these educated, bright women of Calgary who were interested in issues bigger than themselves do? They picked up the trail of our famous five. They volunteered. They created and led community organizations at the local, national and international levels that spanned the arts, human services, and social reform - things that involved ‘doing good’. Things that have left their mark on Calgary – and some of my mom’s friends are here today.
My mother was very involved in the National Council of Jewish Women. The archives of that organization note that in 1930 Nellie McClung addressed a meeting of that group and became a frequent speaker at Jewish organizations. One my mother’s projects involved building a coalition of other women’s organizations in Calgary to create formal training for volunteers, based on the realization that it takes more than a caring heart and a good soul to do this good work. It turns out that this Program for Volunteerism was a precursor to the School of Social Welfare which is now the Faculty of Social Work.
My mother, who died of cancer almost19 years ago, did not live to see me become the dean, but I know she would find a certain irony in this and a lot of pride in the path I took, as she too dreamed a different dream for her daughters.
The roots of activism weren’t just from my mother’s side. We have newspaper clips of my grandmother on my father’s side marching on city hall in Miami for better services for pensioners when she was in her 80s; at that same age she was serving meals on wheels to the ‘old’ people, as she called them. My dad is here today having just celebrated his 86th birthday.
So my grandmother’s generation, women of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, worked the fields, the homesteads, in the general stores along side their husbands - they had to. My mother’s generation, women raising their children post-war 1940s, 50s and 60s, stayed home and made their contribution to their communities as volunteers. The feminist movement gave my generation permission to do it all – we could have a spouse, an education, career and family. But the pressure on us to be Type E – ‘everything to everybody’ has taken its toll.
According to Barbara Moses in her book “Dish”, those of us in our mid-40s to late 60s are now tired after 30 odd years of trying to please at the expense of repressing our selves. We’ve juggled multiple roles for a long time with much self sacrifice. Moses writes: “While some of us are happy, many are struggling. We are unfulfilled at work, irritated with our partners – if we still have one, and worried about our kids and our aging parents. As the pampered baby boom generation, we thought we could have it all. Some of us feel all we got were the dregs, most of us feel that what we got was something in between. Many of us are now dealing with unresolved issues in our work and personal lives.” Moses says we’re at an age where: “our inner bitch is yearning to be heard”.
But we also are a generation that has seen incredible breakthroughs and accomplishments by and for woman, that have had some far reaching effects, because we have raised our sons as well as our daughters to think and act in more egalitarian terms and to understand what a partnership means on the home front as well as the workplace. And we too dreamed a different dream for our daughters – one that was more empowered, emancipated from ‘everything to everyone’.
So what about the next generation? Well, they certainly aren’t getting married at the age of 19 like I did. Now in my case, this worked out exceedingly well; this weekend is our 34th anniversary – mostly because we ended up raising each other, along side our three kids – who are all 20-somethings, each doing very interesting things with their lives, and all here today from New York, Santa Monica and Whistler, along with my sister from Toronto.
I think the next generations, knowing they can have it all, are making choices. But the options for our daughters and granddaughters are both confusing and complicated. We have fashion trends and baring breasts which can be seen as liberating and freeing; or, described as pseudo-empowerment by Ariel Levy in her book about the rise of the “raunch culture”. And in contrast to this ‘Girls Gone Wild’, is the attraction to religious movements and fundamentalism by large numbers of young people. The Internet has fuelled new forms of social activism and participation in world affairs, but there is a dark and dangerous side to these technologies with Internet luring, seduction and bullying. Consumerism is at an all time high, but so are memberships in the Green party.
In addition to these paradoxes, young men and women look at us and don’t necessarily like what they see – the 80 hour work weeks and lack of time to just kick back and hang out; the huge disparities in the distribution of wealth, food, shelter and opportunity across the globe; they see racism; violence within families, at schools, on streets; wars; and graft, corruption and lies in the very institutions we supposedly hold dear – multi-national corporations and political parties.
Cindy Sheehan has named one of those lies – patriotism. She is the woman who camped outside President Bush’s gate asking that he tell her why her son had to die in Iraq, and in doing so ignited the anti-war movement in the US. She says what we need is matriotism. She thinks that Bush’s ‘if you aren’t with us, then you are against us’ is “perverted patriotism allowing post 9/11 vengeance to send thousands of American young people to die and to kill in two countries that were no threat to the US or the American way of life. Matriotism is the opposite, balancing out the militarism of patriotism. A true matriot would not carpet bomb cities and villages, would never send her child or another mother’s child to fight nonsense wars, and wouldn’t use violence to solve conflict.” We will soon realize in Canada that we too have sent our sons and daughters to fight a war, one that we somehow silently slipped into when we crossed the line from peace keeping and peace making, to full scale battle. Where are our matriots?
Nelson Mandela told the Global Summit of Women in 2000 that when women are in charge, there is less corruption, more transparency and resources are better used. It has been proven, he said, that where the income is given to a woman, the nutritional value to the family increases eight times more than when the money is given to a man.
There is a Chinese Proverb:
If you want 1 year of prosperity grow grain
If you want 10 years of prosperity grow trees
If you want 100 years of prosperity grow people.
I think Irene, Henrietta, Nellie, Louise, and Emily – and I’d like to add to that list women like Charlotte Whitton and Maude Riley – understood this and are celebrated for their efforts to grow people, women as people, women as persons.
This year on International Women’s Day, the Toronto Star published a report card on the progress made on the advancement of women. They report that although many professions and industries have created greater balance between males and females, inequity at the very top still remains. The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business published a list of the most influential Canadian business leaders – of the top 25 selected, not one was a woman.
But inequity remains at the bottom as well. Women and female-headed households are significantly poorer, have more barriers and fewer opportunities. There are more than 2.8 million women in Canada living with poverty. And if you think we’ve come a long way with regard to human rights for women – look at the systemic barriers to equity under the law for Aboriginal women in the Indian Act – it is shameful. And in the name of being culturally sensitive and responsive to the rights of ethnic minorities we are witnessing the threat to justice for women with the introduction of Sharia law to settle family disputes. Not to mention our neighbors to the south, who are whittling away at a woman’s right to choose. So our battles are far from over – whether it is in the corporate board room, the rarified air of senior posts in academia, or at the food banks, on reserves, or in ethnic enclaves. I don’t think our five up there would want us to rest on their laurels or to think the job was done.
When I think of my own discipline, one that is female dominated; I’m the only female dean of the large Social Work programs across the country and the first female dean in this Faculty’s 40 year history. Like our counterparts across disciplines in academia, women are not properly represented in the full professor ranks nor are they in the senior leadership roles. Out in the social services where men, who are in the minority to begin with, occupy the senior administrative roles out of all proportion. Men represent ¼ to 1/3 of all social workers, yet women earn between 62 and 88% of what men earn. One might wonder if the profession of social work has a glass ceiling, is there any hope at all for equality?
One of the questions that I stumbled on in my interview for the dean’s position was when I was asked to described my career plan that led to me being a candidate for dean. The implication being that there had been a plan. As I thought about this I began to laugh – my career path has had more to do with synchronicity and happenstance, than a well crafted plan. I’ve had a series of experiences in my life that have led me to make certain decisions and choices – but no master plan where in my younger days I aspired to one day be a Dean and then proceeded to take the necessary steps to take to get there. I’m not sure if this is reflective of a gender difference, but I know I’m not alone in this experience.
Although I am speaking from the frame of reference of women in academia, I do believe that 90% of what leaders work on is generic — it’s all about relationships, having passion around a purpose, motivating others, getting things done and achieving results. The difference for women is the perception of what happens to them when they take on leadership roles and the notion that these jobs are inherently undesirable. So for many who might aspire to leadership, the jobs themselves may look less than appealing to a woman than to a man. Why is that, you might ask?
They look a bit lonely. They look like you have to distance yourself from those you work with and sacrifice a personal or family life. They look exclusive, rule-bound and authoritarian. They look like they are all head and no heart. No wonder it is difficult attracting women to leadership roles. But, take a look at any book shelf – the texts on leadership are compelling leaders, mostly men, to adopt practices that women seem to naturally use. There is a new era of leadership practice that has moved away from the command and control tactics of the past toward values-based, emotionally intelligent, transformational leading. These leadership practices – including Stephen Covey’s “8th Habit”, are suggesting that we need leaders to be integrated and wholistic, and that means not just using heads and hands but actually instructing leaders to also use their heart and soul. These women’s ways of leading aren’t actually called that outright but when the Dalai Lama’s Art of Happiness at Work becomes a New York Times bestseller, you know the mainstream is paying attention.
So what can we learn from scanning some of these texts? They are filled with talk of passion, vision, intuition, spiritual connections, meaning and mindfulness – with regard to work and work places. I would argue that what we are seeing is the feminization of leadership. Instead of the idea that women have to become male-like to take top leadership roles, men it seems, need to become more female-like in order to see the desired results in the organizations they lead. However, as much as these ideas are making the best seller’s list and leadership training programs on these topics are sold out, on the ground, we still have work to do. For it is not fair to raise the bar for women while accepting much less than perfection from men. I believe female leaders are held to a higher standard in many subtle, nuanced and implicit ways. This expectation adds to the pressure, induces guilt, and causes us to agonize over tough decisions.
We need to think of leadership in less hierarchical terms and value the leadership functions of motivating, modeling and mentoring over those of directing, deciding and doing. We need work environments that are flexible and friendly, more than work places that are rigid and rule-bound. We know that emotions matter. Daniel Goldman’s research on emotional intelligence tells us that adapting to change and coping with adversity improves with things that have more to do with emotions than intellect. We know that at work, relationships and attitude are better predictors of success than technical know-how. When we are able to actually use that knowledge in tangible ways in organizations, then I think we might begin to see women actually choosing and aspiring to leadership. If I were to share with you my top 5 list that might best address the challenges facing women in taking on leadership roles, it would go something like this:
#5. Having mentors and peers who will celebrate your successes and provide you with ideas to make you better at what you are already good at. Having people you trust in your life to hold up the mirror will enable you to keep on learning since ultimately leadership development is self-development.
#4. Institutional support for acting upon the importance of having a balanced life with time for work, community involvement, family and self. Now I’m not the best model for this but if the job is all encompassing and all consuming then you will lose perspective and perspective is an essential ingredient in successful leading.
#3. Giving up the search for the single right answer or the perfect decision, and instead concentrating on understanding the unique context every situation brings, drawing on your wisdom and the wisdom of others, and trusting the process. Don’t be afraid to change your mind, and see and seek the humour in situations. There is nothing like a good laugh.
#2. Focusing on strengths instead of deficits – yet dealing effectively with staff who procrastinate, complain, or seek to undermine change. This speaks to the need to manage (not avoid) conflict, build consensus and a sense of community, and navigate complex systems while simultaneously keeping an eye on the big picture. And don’t forget the three C’s – communication, communication, communication – it needs to be constant, effective, inspiring, clear and understandable. To do so as a leader you must be able to listen, hear and ask.
#1. Bringing your authentic self to the workplace and to your leadership. Refusing to park your personality at the office door. Knowing yourself and your value – what you are good at, what you care about, what pushes your buttons and what gives meaning to your life. Using all your parts – your head, hands, heart and soul – with grace and dignity.
I’ve been collecting bits of learning, while I’ve had the privilege and challenge of the being the Dean of this amazing Faculty at this incredible University. They are mostly words of wit gathered from many sources, some I can attribute from Maya Angelou to George Carlin, and some I cannot.
Here are just a few –
I've learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.
I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.
I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one.
And, I've learned that people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways but narrower view points.
We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge but less judgment, more medicine but less wellness.
We've deconstructed the atom, but not our prejudice.
We've been to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbor.
People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone.
I do believe it makes a difference to our University that there are several female deans. I can tell you that I am stimulated, challenged, and learn a lot. I am energized, most of the time, and look forward to coming to work, most of the time. There are day-to-day frustrations, not enough hours in a week, and pulls in multiple directions but there are also positive results and tangible outcomes.
Our challenge, not unlike the struggles of those five up there, is to make these leadership jobs desirable to women – to not be so daunting so more women will dare to do it. The world needs women to be leaders. We need them in balance with men – in politics, in boardrooms, on the bench, in academia, and elsewhere. Women know how to right wrongs, build bridges, mend fences, and bring peace – we must do this, if we are to dream a different future for our children.
As I began, I made reference to the shoes I had to fill in speaking here today. I will close with the words of Bette Midler, as she summed up the value of believing in her dreams and in her self, when she said: “Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.”