Women’s History Month presents an opportunity to reflect on (her)stories–nationally and globally. First of all, we have been fortunate in America to move towards a more enlightened and holistic sense of humanity because of the emergence of incomparable, iconic, and some internationally renowned women. Regardless of your current paradigm of what leaders should do to inspire and effect needed stability or change, it is easy to discern that there is something magnificently different, inspiring, courageous, and enthralling about extraordinary women who have risen to prominence in America.
As I reflect, it is hard to identify how a combination of intellect, authenticity, courage, charisma, personal backgrounds, and public appearance coalesces into women leaders who are fascinating and uplifting to watch. Nonetheless, there are, and have been, women visionaries who compel us to envision a better self and better world. Each of us probably has a list of unforgettable women who helped shape our lives. And yes, there have been many men such as fathers, brothers, teachers, mentors who also helped shape and mentor us. However, this month we tell her stories.
Many of the women who have affected our lives seem to have had the courage to push past cultural expectations; to lead with their hearts and to engage the hearts of others; to employ their intellects to encourage intellectual development of generations; to broaden circles of interest about significant public issues to influence public policy; and to illustrate a grace under pressure that we can only applaud. As we think of, and pay homage to, these extraordinary women who accomplished the unexpected and possibly unthinkable while making it look easy, we also have to acknowledge that there are countless women who are not discoverable in historical accounts. For many of us, these women are unknown and obscure; yet, we are better humans because they were here. Thus, we should pay homage to all of them!
Recently, I began thinking about some of the women who helped me develop a broader view of leadership in higher education, to understand leadership from a woman’s perspective, and to embrace needed personal transformations and realities. Thus, I personally thank some authentic and incomparable women such as: the first African-American woman principal, former slave, and pioneering educator Fanny Jackson Coppin; activist and civil-rights leader Coretta Scott King; award-winning author, poet, and indomitable spirit Maya Angelou; Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize novelist Toni Morrison; anthropologist, museum director, and sister president Johnnetta B. Cole; higher education leader, President Molly Broad; Hall of Fame Coach C. Vivian Stringer; higher education educator, author, mentor, and former college president Gretchen Bataille; educator, former mentor, and former college president Bernice Miller; actress, singer, and late entertainer extraordinaire Pearl Bailey; selfless and inspirational Catholic school nuns; and of course, my late hardworking, nurse caregiver, supportive, and Southern mom, Dolores Batiste Howard. These women with their ranges of perspectives and experiences have furnished a broad and diverse legacy from whence I have benefited.
When thinking of the contributions of these, and so many other women, it is easy to imagine that there is an expanded talent pool to elect a woman President of the United States with characteristics of some of our extraordinary American women. Of course, like many Americans, I want the most qualified, future-oriented, and politically adept person to lead America. So maybe the time has come to broaden our pool of consideration to include some of those extraordinary women leaders of which America appears to have an abundance. A cursory glance of recorded history demonstrates that other countries have capitalized on the skills of women for national leadership roles. Although there are fewer Internet records of the lives or leadership characteristics of Queen Cleopatra (69-30 B.C.); Elizabeth I, Queen of England (1533-1603); Prime Minister Golda Meir; Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; or Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, their feats as leaders have inspired and broken the perceived glass ceiling for generations of women around the world.
Women’s History Month is a good time to engage in positive actions that support women in our institutions of higher education, businesses, and communities so that we will broaden our pool of talent for potentially great, world leaders!