Happy Mother’s Day-Celebrating the Love and Hidden Workloads of so Many Women

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For most individuals, their mothers are, or have been, a special influence in their lives and contribute to their lifelong sense of love, compassion, and confidence. The love of a mother can encircle you like an invisible force field. Yet, often, mothers supply this nexus of love and support while juggling careers, personal and conflicting aspirations, and hidden familial workloads. This Mother’s Day, let us acknowledge the special place that mothers occupy in our lives and the complexity of their lives that is frequently hidden from our view.

Some time ago, a colleague and I conducted research on the hidden workloads of women in higher education. Our research was presented at conferences, and it was eventually published in an international publication focusing on women.

Basically, we surveyed and interviewed about 100 women in higher education from the rank of assistant professor to Vice President who worked at a highly-ranked and research, regional university. After we entered the 21st century, it seemed like a good time to take a pulse, to seek some perspectives, of women. We found that women reported a myriad of experiences that appeared to be unique to them. They reported having their voices ignored in departmental meetings; feeling pressured to produce research while balancing other familial responsibilities; and struggling to fit their contributions into an educational reward structure not normed on women.

Well, more than a decade has passed since we reported our findings. There have been many changes since then—including that a woman, and a mother, is now running for President of the United States. However, there is still much work to do. Our mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters still earned only 77 cents for every dollar that men earned in 2012, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Further, some believe that many workplaces could be further enhanced by the voices and leadership styles of more women.

So, this Mother’s Day, as we celebrate our mothers with flowers, fine jewelry, and special dinners, let us lean in and take a good look at the lives, perspectives, aspirations, and hidden workloads of these women.

May the lives and contributions of mothers to humanity continue to be enhanced and appreciated!

From Specific Competencies to Career Pathways

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Recently, some faculty and staff colleagues at Florida Memorial University submitted a proposal to compete for a Career Pathways grant. The purpose of this national competition was to encourage institutions to partner with business and industry leaders to refine academic programs, curricular, and co-curricular experiences to assure that students leave with competencies needed in specific workforces and careers. The grant’s overarching assumption is that more collaboration between industry leaders and faculty would lead to clearer career pathways for students from academic programs to current and emerging disciplines/workforce needs.

While this, in itself, is not a new idea, the grantors appear to be echoing the sentiments of many students, parents, employers, and taxpayers regarding the thorny transitions from academic degree programs to desired employment.

Ironically, nearly a thousand years ago or so, it was common for younger persons seeking to acquire specific competencies to work alongside skilled craftsmen until they could demonstrate mastery. Thus, there was a closer and more discernible link between specialized knowledge, experiential learning, and competencies related to entrance into specific professions and trades.

Nearly a millennium later,  after the multiplication of universities, degree programs, certifications, accreditation organizations, unions, and more formalized apprenticeship and internship programs, the link between learner and mastery of specific competencies seems to have eroded. Educators and policy analysts regularly point out varying disconnects between the learning outcomes of high school and the admissions requirements for college. Others note similar disconnects between college degree outcomes and competencies needed for admission into well-paying jobs.

Probably because of the costs involved for individuals and families in pursuing a college education, the expectation is that the investment will guarantee the acquisition of specific competencies that in turn will lead to well-paying careers and middle-class lifestyles.

According to some,  “credentialing” has gone amok in the 21st century. Instead of facilitating a clear pathway from higher education to a career, some colleges and universities have been viewed as generating a proliferation of degrees that load students with irrelevant courses, leaving them with burgeoning debt, and not closer to well-paying careers. Further, families have observed that students seeking entrance into specific careers and the job market, in general, find themselves confused and facing what many view as a fragmented array of educational options and undefined competencies from secondary school through advanced education.

Education stakeholders such as the Lumina Foundation, America Council on Education, and the Lilly Foundation, to name a few, have sought to increase transparency and clarity in credentialing in higher education by engaging in a national dialogue about the need for clearer paths from secondary schools to specific careers.

Thus, the work by faculty and staff at Florida Memorial University to clearly describe degree competencies and engage in dialogues with industry representatives is a strong step in the right direction.

Leadership Essential-Defining Success for Others


images-3.jpgAs we approach 2016 with hope, resolutions, and anticipation, it might also be helpful to ruminate on some of the evolving concepts of leadership and the lenses they furnish for current and emerging leaders in our society. Often perspectives on leadership held by policy makers coalesce into societal policies, legislation and laws.  Leadership philosophies and styles tend to encompass a variety of perspectives, values, and notions of good lives.

In November 2015, I was honored to give the keynote address at the graduation ceremony of The University of North Carolina Bridges leadership program for women. More than 20 years ago, the UNC Bridges intensive, four-week, leadership program was designed to inform, promote, and support women in leadership roles in higher education.  I particularly enjoyed returning to the (William and Ida) Friday Center in Chapel Hill to interact with women seeking higher education leadership roles because, I had been nurtured, mentored, informed, and furnished leadership opportunities for 14 years in the UNC system.

Moreover, discussing leadership theories continues to fuel my hope that we will eventually develop leaders who will transform our society, so that the majority of Americans will experience a more perfect union. Further, the eroding public confidence in higher education, its value, and its leaders appears to be a microcosm of eroding confidence in political institutions, corporations, and many leaders in America. Probably since I was an English Literature and Language major (decades ago) the words of Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel which depict dueling social ills prior to the French Revolution seem to resonate with me as I contemplate 2016:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, were all going direct to Heaven, we were going direct the other way. Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, 1859

In short, what better time than 2016 to reflect on leadership and co-existing extremes?

The theme of the graduating Bridges class was transformational leadership. Thus, speakers were asked to share experiences, knowledge, and wisdom regarding the concept of transformational leadership.  In a nutshell, the theory of transformational leadership affirms that leaders are more successful when they facilitate the development of leadership qualities in others, when they inspire team leadership to solve problems, and when leaders are introspective about the personal values, assumptions, and paradigms from whence they lead.

In the conversations following the keynote address, the Bridges graduates and I also discussed leadership roles through the lenses of other leadership theories.  In addition to transformational leadership, we agreed that there are a host of leadership theories that attempt to inform, elucidate, and guide those seeking leadership positions in a range of societal institutions.  Some leadership theories that were viewed as illuminating various aspects of leadership include:

Authentic leadership– leaders are usually positive people who lead from honest and ethical foundations and maintain honest relationships with employees or followers.

Servant leadership–leaders desire to serve, the servant’s heart is a fundamental component for this type of leadership. The servant leader puts the needs of others before his/hers and shares power–the pyramid is flipped.

Collaborative leadership–leaders employ teams to lead a hierarchy structure that is less of a pyramid.  Current modes of communication support a more flat organizational structure in which team members learn from each other and work together to solve problems.

While reflecting on transformational leadership, and various other leadership styles, it occurred to me that the first place for an aspiring or current leader to engage in deeper rumination or for meaningful New Year’s resolutions is one’s personal values and definition of success.   In other words, the journey towards a high level leadership position, through it, and after it, begins with a person defining–What does success mean to me?

In higher education, for example, success to a leader could mean 1) advancing knowledge in a discipline, 2) improving the teaching and learning environments, 3) employing big data to truly solve intractable problems, 4) forecasting future opportunities, and/or 5) simply helping others to discover the joy and benefits of a lifetime of learning.  A personal definition of success is not only helpful, but it could lead towards a more fulfilling career, life/work balance, altruistic behavior, and healthy lifestyle.  

Even a cursory view of higher education leadership, political leadership, and corporate leadership would reveal that long term success in a leadership role is more difficult in a world defined, measured, and sometimes quartered by social media that can topple leaders through informed/ill-informed public reactions.  Thus, it is essential for leaders to reflect on a personal definition of success that will help ease some of the unavoidable bumps and turbulence in leadership roles.  It is also important to note that the meaning of success will probably change and evolve over time in a leader’s tenure and lifetime.  

So where does this leave us with our New Year’s resolutions? Hopefully, when making our lists, we will also be cognizant that every individual effort adds to the collective well-being.  When we reflect on what success means to us and our families, we will also be aware that our concepts of good lives will be played out in microcosms that will be expanded in the macrocosms called America and the global village.

 

 

Thanksgiving is a time to pause and realize we can improve our collective lives

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Usually it is very easy to compose a Thanksgiving season blog.  This year, however, there have been many global disturbances in which humans have hurt other humans.  Further, the rhetoric of too many political candidates has left many of us wondering about the general assumptions some political organizations seem to believe about the intelligence of American voters.

Unfazed by the human tragedies and the political circus seem to be the Black Friday marketers–consumerism must go on, and this year it needs to be bigger than last year. So, cut your Thanksgiving family time short to save $ on something you probably do not really need anyway.

A quote from Charles Dickens 1859 novel depicting the climate prior to the French Revolution seems apropos:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

When considering our current situations in the world with its gaps of wealth, education, understanding, and alternate versions of history, it could be easy to succumb to melancholy and to lack faith that there will be a heightening of humanity and more evenness of global, human well-being.  Maybe this melancholy is the reason why some humans inflict pain on others .  As I was once told, “hurt people–hurt people.”

Yet, when considering the extensive list of things gone awry, it is the stories of hundreds of selfless individuals, and their mostly unheralded acts of courage, altruism, philanthropy, and love that fuel the optimism shared in some of our family worlds, our communities, and generally in America.

So, this Thanksgiving, I will wish the retail industry well, look into the faces of friends and relatives with hope and optimism, laugh at the stories of our past follies, and I will try not to gain too much weight from the Thanksgiving dinner, its leftovers, and the month long holiday season.

Because most of all, Thanksgiving is a time to affirm that we can improve our collective futures with genuine acts of kindness and awareness of our global connectivity.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

The Job Search-The Concept of “fit”

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Over the last couple of years, there has been sufficient media coverage on the search for jobs by new college graduates, the creation of jobs in America, the unemployment rate, and preparation needed for more citizens to be prepared for high-tech jobs.

Nonetheless, there are still hundreds of thousands of college graduates, at every level, and in all disciplines looking for something close to an open job door to launch their careers/lives, and/or to move out of their parents’ houses. Moreover, there are mid-level workers, steeped in the nexus of family responsibilities, searching for new jobs to earn more money or to acquire a better quality of life.  Further, there are Baby Boomers who are phasing out of jobs, or seeking to re-imagine how to live a quality retirement life by engaging in new interests with monetary payoffs.

Recently, I have been watching our daughter and other college graduates negotiate the hurdles to enter the workforce.  While some aspects of securing a job that works for you, as well as your working for it, have remained the same, there are significant challenges many new graduates face in order to convince those searching and interviewing that they are a good fit for the organization–at least for the near future.  Being a good fit for a job seems to mean that the prospective employer or current employees think that they can work with you, and you can work with them–at least for the time being.  The inherent limitations on the searching for a good fit approach for recruiting talented employees should be explored further–but for now, it still seems to be the norm.

As research reveals, most employees change jobs or careers numerous times in their lives, so fit  in an organization can change over time.

Yet, while watching new graduates attempt to sell their skills, enthusiasm, tech savvy, and innovative ideas to organizations, I have been reminded that establishing at least the illusion of fit for a job is a very complex undertaking.  It involves a variety of factors such as others’ perceptions of the prospective employee, past experiences of the current employees, and other factors not within the control of the job seeker. Further, strategies for projecting fit  can be different from organization to organization and at different stages of your career and life.

For example, establishing fit when you are a new graduate, usually includes creating a strong impression that you will bring energy, a fresh perspective, technological skills, and the ability to work with others. During interviews, graduates will be challenged to exude confidence, knowledge, and flexibility as they respond to questions from highly relevant to arcane.  In mid-career, prospective employees might want to project knowledge, energy, good judgement, good team skills, and a repertoire that will benefit the organization.  In many ways, searching for a job can be compared to speed dating–you have a limited time and toolkit to assess and be assessed for fit.

Not surprisingly, many new college graduates who are attempting to enter the workforce claim that even with good academic records and a few visits to their campus career centers, they do not really believe they are prepared to convince employers that they are the right person for a specific position.  Many students agree, though, that understanding of the concept of fit can be enhanced by actually observing organizational culture and participating in internships or volunteer experiences.

Some aspects of projecting fit are visual and auditory.  Students often need assistance transitioning from campus chic to work attire–in order to convince interviewers of their fit.  Even though many workplaces are allowing casual attire, there is a range of casual wear that is considered acceptable in the workplace. New graduates might not understand that range, but they can learn it quickly with a little assistance from career centers, mentors, and internship experiences.  Additionally, many of us have observed bright, caring, and talented people lose job opportunities because of their ill-fitting communication skills, both written and verbal–OMG!

To help students make a transition to an appropriate, and comfortable workplace fit, at least a few universities that I know of have charged their career service offices with maintaining a career wardrobe collection of ties, business jackets, and other accessories to help students make an acceptable visual presentation in interviews. Further, these career centers have consistently worked with students to employ the staid version of English–probably a necessary standard to establish comfort and fit when conversing with prospective employers.

Moreover, in terms of written communication, recent graduates often are unsure of how to craft an appropriate resume and how they should represent themselves (i.e., choice of pictures) on LinkedIn and other social media sites.  If I had a dollar for each student or young professional who was convinced that the same generic one-page resume is the only option for all job opportunities, I would be extraordinarily rich.  There are so many other options available for students to demonstrate what they know and can do, such as online portfolios and personal websites which portray leadership experiences, writing samples, and positive stories.

During an interview, inadequate communication skills and body language (such as posture, eye movement, and so forth) are often ways that prospective employers eliminate prospective employees. New graduates and anyone seeking to change jobs need to be prepared for online Skype, Google Hangout, or other such teleconference interviews and interactions. Organizations use them to both save money while assessing communication skills of prospective employees.  Often, potential employees are eliminated from the competition because of their micro expressions, lack of eye contact, use of space, or comments during an online interview that could suggest that there could be an issue with fit into a particular organization’s culture.

As previously stated, students who have had the opportunity to participate in the workforce through intensive internships or cooperative experiences demonstrate greater confidence when discussing their abilities and potential contributions in interviews because they have already had opportunities to sit in conference rooms and observe and mimic the behaviors of more seasoned employees.

Nonetheless, it has continued to surprise me that even the most talented graduates lack self-esteem and worry incessantly about the competition for desirable jobs.  Apparently, performing well academically does not necessarily translate into confidence in securing jobs or the overall strategies for competing for jobs.

Recently, I read an article about a new graduate who went to an unbelievable number of interviews and sent out approximately 100 job applications.  Needless to say, the job search rejections left the new graduate disappointed, but she refused to give up, and eventually secured a job through her network contacts, assisted by an extended family member.  Networking and discussing career aspirations with seasoned employees still seem to help graduates secure entrance into tough job markets.

So, how can colleges, career centers, and mentors help?  It seems that as long as human beings are judging who will be a good fit for their organizations, it will be important for those who are helping graduates and young professionals to explore and understand the concept of fit from various angles– including knowledge, communication skills, attitudes, attire, and workplace expectations.  Sometimes, it is important for the graduate to determine early in the interview process that a company is not a good fit and to pursue other better options.

Yet, I admit, the perception of fit still seems a bit flawed to me.  Hopefully, those candidates selected because they appear to fit will actually help lead organizations to a more innovative and productive future!

Love Quest–Happy Valentine’s Day!

Featured imageAs I walk through numerous commercial venues, it is hard to look pass the red velvet Valentine’s hearts, heart-shaped balloons, and, of course the chocolates in heart-shaped boxes that are readily available to help us share our feelings and demonstrate that we love others. Yet, my first instinct is to express something akin to chagrin about the limited nature of love these red mementos seem to represent.

Love appears to be one of the most complex human states of being or demonstration of emotional connection that most humans proclaim to seek and treasure. In some way, we are all on a love quest. Fortunately or unfortunately, many of us encounter our first glimpses of love in our family worlds from our parents and family members, enhanced by books, and other social media. We tend to conceptualize love from watching others demonstrate love.

Unfortunately, it is rarely easy to discern the depth and commitment of the love we think we see without sustained observations, authentic conversations, and soul-searching. Commercialized expressions of the emotion often furnish little help for us, as we explore love. If we are lucky, we begin to understand that love transforms our views of ourselves and, ultimately, of the world.

For some of us, we observe parents who show their love for us by sacrificing for their families, working long hours, providing adequate food and shelter, and rejoicing in each of our victories–as we transform into more complicated human beings. There are also opportunities to observe how others love their significant others from various viewpoints in our career progressions.

As we continue to develop as humans, our concept of love usually also broadens, and we discover a capacity to empathize with, or extend something often referred to as brotherly love to, friends, neighbors, and even persons we do not know well. Oftentimes, we will give of ourselves to these people by offering the gift of our time, money, intellect, talents, guidance, and/or best wishes.

Then, as we mature, and if we are lucky, we broaden our capacity to a notion of care, concern, or possibly love for those less fortunate than ourselves in America and in other countries. We care about the environments in which others live-their abilities to live purposeful lives, to drink clean water, to live without crippling diseases, and to raise healthy children of their own.

And, possibly, as we watch our children and grandchildren grow, and as we guide them and shape their capacities to evolve into loving and caring world citizens themselves who will contribute intellect, compassion, and visions for sustainable environments, we will also be extending our expressions of love even farther ahead to future unborn generations.

The love quest–possibly there is nothing like it on our  planet.

Happy Valentine’s Day!