"I think it is critical that our students see us in leadership positions so that they know it is possible for them." — Alema Karim
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 SOMETHING I WISH MY MOTHER HAD LIVED TO SEE." — Jenifer Giroux
Having a seat at the leadership table is incredibly important to me and a responsibility that I take very seriously. Personally, it sets a strong example for my two daughters and is something that I wish my mother had lived to see. She and my father worked extremely hard to provide me with the opportunity to attend Rhode Island College. I am very proud that I have received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees from Rhode Island College and now lead Professional Studies and Continuing Education (PSCE) and have a seat on the President's Executive Cabinet.
My leadership style is probably best described as democratic. I take a very collaborative approach to leadership. Very often, PSCE is an incubator for launching new initiatives or a convener of external and internal partners who work together to create new programs. This work often necessitates the involvement of every member of PSCE in a project, so input and commitment from everyone is critical to guarantee success. As a leader, I'm a good listener and understand the unique talents and contributions of each staff member in order to take a project from an idea to execution. I work to create a division that is greater than the sum of its parts.
"I REALIZED AS A BLACK WOMAN LEADER I COULD BRING ALL OF ME WITH ME TO THE TABLE." — Jeannine Dingus-Eason
One of the things that drew me to Rhode Island College was the leadership composition. As a Black woman, I needed to be able to see myself and to be in a space where I would be able to contribute. I saw that there was a Latino president, women in leadership positions and a diverse student body. All of that appealed to me.
My approach to leadership is that of the servant leader. In other words, all of this is not about me but about the betterment of the collective. As a newer dean, I engage in a lot of listening to get a sense of the culture and what's important to people, to learn how people operate and to understand the general discourse within the school. I am also an outward-facing leader. I look to the community to help formulate the questions and the work that needs to be done.
But always – at the heart of everything I do – is diversity, equity and inclusion. As leaders of diversity, equity and inclusion, we're charged not only to engage people in discourse around injustice, we're charged to use the data to highlight where change is needed and to use the data to implement real change.
I think my can-do spirit and emphasis on service was learned from my mother. The other two role models in my life are Dr. Geneva Gay and Dr. Arthur Sam Walton. I would not be here had it not been for those two people. Dr. Gay, a Black woman, was my doctoral advisor. She taught me how to be a Black woman in higher education and still maintain, as she says, "a semblance of one's self." Dr. Walton, a Black man and founding dean of the School of Education where I previously worked, was the first to tap me on the shoulder and say, "I want you to start engaging in leadership activities." They taught me that as a Black woman leader, I could bring all of me with me to the table, that it is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it is something to be very proud of because it is a much-needed perspective. If I couldn't bring my whole self to the equation, I couldn't lead.
"I BRING EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE AND AN OUTSIDE, EXPERIENCED PERSPECTIVE." — Carolynn Masters
No matter which role I've been in, I have always tried to focus on effective communication, transparency, respect for others, empathy and to be fair and consistent with my decision making. The term for this is emotional intelligence – otherwise known as emotional quotient or EQ. That's the ability to understand, use and manage your own emotions in a positive way to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict.
With over 35 years in higher education, I also bring a seasoned perspective to the leadership table. I've served in a variety of leadership roles, and, over the years, I have seen my skills become more fine-tuned. I've had great mentors – male and female – who have aided in my professional development. I've also taken advantage of leadership development educational offerings, which have helped me develop more focused, data-driven decisions. So, not only do I bring emotional intelligence to the table, I bring an outside, experienced perspective.
"I THIN IT IS CRITICAL THAT OUR STUDENTS SEE US IN LEADERSHIP POSITIONS SO THAT THEY KNOW IT IS POSSIBLE FOR THEM. — Alema Karim
As a woman leader, I feel grateful that I overcame many challenges and experienced such a rewarding journey. I am among the earliest Bangladeshi women to earn a Ph.D. in economics and I am the first woman faculty member in the Department of Economics and Finance at Rhode Island College.
I was born in a small town in Bangladesh, where girls were expected to marry and have children rather than pursue higher education. Yet my parents were very progressive. They let me continue my education because I was a very good student and I was offered scholarships to college. My mother, in particular, advocated for me to go to college.
However, economics was an uncommon field for women to pursue. In my undergraduate class, there were 80 students – 70 men and 10 women. When I earned my degree, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment. With the support of my very progressive husband, I came to the United States to earn my master's degree at Boston University, while he stayed with our four-year-old daughter in Bangladesh. Later, he left his business to come here so I could complete my Ph.D. at Boston University.
At RIC, I became not only the first woman but the first woman of color to teach in the Department of Economics and Finance. I also became the first woman chair in the department. I am proud that today our school consists of many women professors – quite a few of them are women of color. I think it is critical that our students see women in positions of leadership so that they know it is possible for them.
Thus ends our three-part series. With a strong sense of purpose, these 12 women leaders learned to navigate spaces where they were told they didn't belong. With hard-earned experience, they arrived at the leadership table. They come with diverse cultural identities, different ways of problem-solving and different leadership styles. They come as strategists with reservoirs of knowledge. They come to share their knowledge with one another and to build together a unified vision for Rhode Island College.