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‘Yes, She Can!’

In a recent post, Lesboprof chides herself for having been reticent about pursuing a leadership position in academe and wonders if traditional gender norms have been holding her back:

I was looking at the candidates for what could honestly be my dream job in the future, and I had a sudden realization. I might have been a contender for the job … right now! Not in five years, not after promotion to full professor, not after an intermediate administrative post, but right freakin’ now! Not a shoo-in, by any means, but the pool is looking a little shallow if these candidates are the best for the job. Of course, I hadn’t applied, thinking it was beyond my current standing.

Yet perhaps this is a particularly female way of looking at moving up. Many male leaders I see have no compunction against reaching for a much higher position, skipping steps along the way. There seems to be a different approach to taking on leadership positions, a “Sure I can” approach, rather than an “I’m not sure if I can” fear. They seem more comfortable blustering and fumbling their way through until they have figured out the parameters of the new position and made it their own. It is almost like watching people walk up stairs; women usually take them one at a time, while men are more likely to move more quickly, taking two or three at a time. While I tend towards a more direct, masculine approach in interactions, something about this process of moving up in administration has me acting like a more traditional woman.

The blogger realizes that she also may have been constrained by “the way people react to my pursuit of higher administrative roles.”

Many people, even my academic friends, have talked about how ambitious I am. Others, who aren’t my friends, imply that it is weird, self-aggrandizing, or some kind of power grab on my part. Perhaps it is those messages that make me a little more nervous about trying for a big move; nothing looks more like hubris and a hunger for power than a big leap ahead.

Is it any wonder she was reticent when research has found that women who show ambition are often penalized and despised for displaying it? (Silly girls. Don’t you know career ambition and professional success are unbecoming?)

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