Directed Field Study – Week 1

This is my first blog entry reporting on the week’s work in my directed field study for TEL 792. My mentor is Jennifer Campfield, Director of Talent Development at JMU, and we are working together on a project aimed at supporting leadership development for women in middle-management and non-instructional faculty positions.

Time spent this week: Approximately 4 hours, including a phone conversation to start our work, development of my plan of study, setting up a schedule for meetings for the summer, and reviewing the instructor’s guide for a previous workshop series that Jennifer taught in the fall (the last being the bulk of this time).

Activities this week:

  • Early in the week I had my first contact with Jennifer, this time by phone (as both of us had other meetings on either side of our call, and no time to travel). I have known Jennifer tangentially for several years, and so we felt that we could have an open conversation without needing to observe social niceties and see each other in person.
  • Together we brainstormed a project and some loose questions, which I then adapted for the plan of study that was due this week.
  • I developed a schedule for regular one-on-one meetings (in person) with Jennifer. This was challenging because for much of June either she or I will be out of town. However, we will plan to keep in touch via email/phone when possible.
  • The bulk of my time this week was spent reading through the instructor’s guide for Women and Leadership: Working Through Barriers and Biases, which is a roughly 4.5 hour workshop from HRDQ designed to help women understand common barriers that women experience in taking leadership roles, including some self-assessment of individual skills and gaps. I read through this as a foundational document, to get up to speed on the work that Jennifer has done on campus already.

Skill development this week:

Much of this week was spent on the initial setup phase of the field study, including the initial meeting, setting a plan of study, and organizing meetings. However, I appreciated a chance to think on my own and with my mentor about what aspects of leadership I found interesting in the context of what she has need to explore. We are both very interested in women in leadership positions – and both feel a bit frustrated with the lack of substantive advice for women other than “stand up straight and talk more loudly, but not too loudly or people will think you’re mean.” I talked briefly with Jennifer about my need to develop a new problem of practice, and suggested that it would be interesting to thinking about library services using a “female gaze” approach, rather than a traditional “male gaze.” Both of us thought this was an interesting idea, but we agreed to table it for later, given that neither of us really know where to go with it.

In the end, the main leadership skill development activity that I did this week as to read through the instructor’s guide linked above. I can see why Jennifer is frustrated with this workshop – there’s very little in there that isn’t either normal leadership advice (team-building activities, a reference to making both a rational and emotional case for change that reminded me of the rider and elephant metaphor in Switch, a recommendation that what people really need are sponsors, not mentors), or somewhat tried-and-true clichés about how women are perceived in leadership positions (you can be either likable or competent, but not both). There was a self-assessment at the end to help identify areas of skill development need: unsurprisingly, I’m good at being authentic, bad at work/life balance, and lazy (but not necessarily unskilled) about my negotiation practices.

The training did remind me that I do already have prior knowledge in this area, and helped me think more about what I feel is lacking. One thing that I’d like to delve into (and this lines up well with Jennifer’s goals) is how women can support other women in their leadership journeys. This could include the question of mentoring vs. sponsoring, but also an exploration of how women are often much harsher critics of other women than they are of men or than men are of women. I think this will be the focus of several of the next few weeks.

I got a few reading recommendations from the workshop guide, as well. Two years ago I read Lean In as part of an HR training in women’s leadership – this was an interesting (though at times annoying) read, and one that I should probably return to again. I did join a local Lean In Circle, but only a few other women joined that, and we have yet to meet. I have Through the Labyrinth: The Truth about How Women Become Leaders, by Alice Eagly and Linda Carli, on my list of to-read this summer. I fear, though, that this is going to be more of the justification for how women are held back, rather than a description of how we might move them forward.

On my reading list: I realize this section is not part of the formal prompt for the weekly entries. However, I need a place to collect items that may be of interest. These are some books from the JMU library collection, cataloged with the LCSH “leadership in women.” The first two specifically refer to leadership in academia (which I sense is different from the corporate world), and the last is focused on social development of leadership.

  • Through the labyrinth: The truth about how women become leaders (Eagly & Carli, 2007).  HD6054.3 .E34 2007. Currently checked out: requested recall.
  •  Career moves : mentoring for women advancing their career and leadership in academia (Vongalis-Macrow, ed, 2014). LB2332.3 .C37 2014.
  • Gender and leadership in education : women achieving against the odds (Fuller & Harford, eds., 2016). LC1481 .G46 2016 Internet. Ebook, but only available on campus.
  • Power through partnership: how women lead better together (Polk & Chotas, 2014). HD6054.3 .P65 2014 Internet. Ebook.

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