Women across the country are speaking truth to power from positions of power. In this three-part series, 12 women leaders at RIC discuss what it means for them to have a seat at the leadership table.
In recent years, across all levels of government, an unprecedented number of women have been elected to public office, many of whom are the first woman or the first woman of their race, ethnicity, religion or gender identity to hold such a position.
Likewise, a historic number of women at Rhode Island College have taken on top leadership positions. They are VPs and deans, they are seasoned and they are young, they are white and they are women of color, some of them speak more than one language but they all have come to the table ready. They sit on the President's Executive Cabinet, they make up the majority of the Provost Council and they lead all but one of the six schools.
In this three-part series, 12 phenomenal women leaders are asked: What does it mean for you, as a woman, to sit at the leadership table? Here, they reflect on who they are and what they bring to the table.
"HAVING A SEAT AT THE LEADERSHIP TABLE IS A SWEET HOMECOMING."
— Anna Cano-Morales
In 2017 I became the first Latina to be appointed to the President's Executive Cabinet – ever. Sadly, this is something many women of color in leadership experience. Too often they are the "first" or the "only." For me, having a seat at the leadership table is a sweet homecoming as a Rhode Island College alumna and native Rhode Islander. Personally, it honors my identity as a daughter of immigrants – a mother who had a fourth-grade education and both parents who labored in the textile mills. It is proof that in just one generation, education and opportunity can impact not only the individual but their family and community. Professionally, my current role honors the M.S.W. degree I earned at this very institution and my more than 20 years of experience in nonprofit work, philanthropy, education policy and public service. As a former first-generation student, my role as a leader allows me to represent the many Latinx students who have similar backgrounds – representation really matters.
At the leadership table, I bring multiple perspectives: I am a woman, a Latina and a first-generation college graduate, whose early life experience intersected with poverty and structural racism. Those characteristics are rare on higher education leadership teams. In fact, those characteristics are rare anywhere where institutional and leadership decisions are made. My perspective helps better the decisions we make as a team and allows for a deeper understanding of the mission of education. Sometimes it is about me asking the questions that have never been asked before or raising an issue that may not be on the radar for others. I take my role very seriously. I see my role as more than having a seat at the table; it is about creating change.
"FOR TOO LONG, WOMEN'S VOICES HAVE NOT BEEN AT THE TABLE IN HIGHER EDUCATION, DESPITE WOMEN MAKING UP MORE THAN HALF OF ALL COLLEGE GRADUATES."
– Helen Tate
Much has been made about the differences between the leadership style of men and women, but the reality is that the differences between leaders of the same sex is much greater than the differences between male and female leaders. There is, however, one significant difference between male and female leaders. It is the way others respond to them based on their gender. In other words, men and women who lead in very similar ways are often judged very differently for the same behavior. This is compounded further for women of color and nongender-conforming women. Understanding this, I have a keen interest in ensuring women's voices are heard and that we invest in the professional development of women leaders.
We know from extensive research that better decisions are made when diverse perspectives are represented at the table. For too long, women's voices have not been at the table in higher education, despite women making up more than half of all college graduates. People of color are even more underrepresented in higher education leadership. I recognize the privilege and responsibility that comes with my position and I hope that in some small way, I can serve as a role model for other women while also advocating for diverse perspectives in all our decision making.
As I was getting started in my career, I remember how much it meant to me to see strong women leaders. I saw how they built relationships, how they handled conflict, how they made decisions and how they supported those around them, and I learned from their example as I developed my own voice as a leader.
"AT THIS TABLE, THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE COLLIDE TO GIVE ME A PROFOUND SENSE OF PURPOSE." – Kimberly Conway Dumpson
The positions we hold in the public realm are positions of trust, so I take my role as a leader very seriously. At the table, I speak for those I serve – students, faculty, staff, alumni and donors – and I listen objectively to those whose views, opinions and motivations may differ from my own. I come prepared to change my perspective and challenge my own thinking. I recognize that the table is not, and should not, be one where decisions are simply made, but a platform upon which to build a stronger foundation to support the college and its success. Ultimately, when our individual perspectives are joined with others and truly valued, we can make better, more well-informed decisions.
As a Black woman, my seat at the table represents many things. For my mother, who came of age during the civil rights movement, my seat represents progress and persistence. For my daughter, my seat is a source of inspiration, empowerment and boundless opportunity. At this table, the past, present and future collide to give me a profound sense of purpose, to use my allotted time as a beacon that shines light on the work of those who came before and as a guide for those who will follow – and follow, they will. There is a new generation of enlightened, self-assured and passionate women who will come, serve and lead prepared to shatter glass ceilings, stereotypes and expectations. My job is to pave the way in any way I can, so that when their time comes, they will be ready.
"IT IS IMPERATIVE FOR ME...TO USE MY VOICE TO PROVIDE PERSPECTIVE AND TO ACT ON THINGS THAT MOVE US TOWARD INCLUSION AND CHANGE." – Ducha Hang
As an Asian American (Hmong American) daughter of refugees, I was often reminded by others of my cultural norms that men were held at a much higher standard than women and that a woman's place is in the house. Although it was difficult for my parents to come to terms with not having a son, they encouraged me and my sisters to focus on our studies, goals and aspirations.
Having a seat at the leadership table allows me to do what I aspired to do – become part of a team, drive change to support student success and celebrate creativity and innovation in higher education. Leadership is not always about the decisions we make or the positions we are in. Rather, leadership is about the process we collectively take to make those decisions and the values that drive the work we do to collaboratively create change.
As a woman, I lead with strength, strategy and advocacy. I also lead with empathy, vulnerability and compassion. This is who I am, as an individual and as a leader. It is imperative for me to be my authentic self, to use my voice to provide perspective and to act on things that move us toward inclusion and change. Personally, the greatest value for me in having a seat at the leadership table is the ability to show other women, especially younger women, that we, too, have a voice and that we can lead effectively while being our true selves.
In Part II of this three-part series, you will hear from Interim Dean Jayashree Nimmagadda, Assistant Vice President and Dean Tamika Wordlow, Dean Leslie Schuster and Vice Provost Holly Shadoian.
In Part III, you will hear from Associate Vice President Jen Giroux, Dean Jeannine Dingus-Eason, Dean Carolynn Masters and Interim Dean Alema Karim.