When I was at Arizona State, I actually completed all of my coursework for my doctorate in public administration. But then I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my research. I was doing my doctorate to get the credential, not because I was really interested in it and that degree program just happened to fit into my work schedule so it was easy for me to do. After finishing 36 hours of my doctorate, I just completely lost interest in what I was studying and I haven’t finished it. However, I do really love to write and do research, I just don’t have time to do that now. But it is something I want to finish in the future because now I know what I want to study. I’m really excited about doing serious research about leadership and particularly how sport influences development in leadership.
In all aspects of life, the most critical thing I had to remember was to just be myself. You have to know who you are and be really confident about who you are and authentic in that instead of trying to be someone else. Modeling yourself after positive people is not a problem, but knowing the difference is important. For instance, when we have athletic department meetings, I am literally the only female in the room. And that’s across two leagues and twenty schools. Acting like one of the guys won’t help; I just need to be myself. It’s hard, especially when you’re the only one who is different in a group.
Being different doesn’t mean it’s right or it’s wrong. You just have to be authentic and be yourself and I think that’s where leadership comes from. When you do that, you attract the kind of people that you want to work with. If I can be authentic then I attract people to me that I’m going to be able to work with really well. And then you just need to find your voice and be really confident in whatever space you end up in. This is essential because you have something to bring to the world. I don’t know why my space is college athletics, but for some reason it is and I am embracing that.
You need to find your voice and be strong in that space.
Being a woman in a male dominated field comes with many challenges, but staying true to myself has really helped me. For instance, I once walked into a meeting of all division one athletic directors of about 300 people. But when I walked in late, I noticed most of them were white men. There were a few colored faces, but it was so hard to find the women. I didn’t realize how small a population we were. But one of the things that I think has allowed me to be successful in this space is just knowing that when I walk into a room, it’s not good or bad, it’s just different.
Being strong in your space is essential. When I was at Arizona State I worked a lot with these three other men on big projects. After working together all day, the three of them would start talking about getting a drink afterwards and it was like I didn’t even exist. So one day, I asked my boss why the guys don’t invite me. He asked me if I ever asked if I could go. Of course, I never had. So he said to ask next time and see what happens. So next time, I asked to go with and they agreed. But when I went to go meet them and walked up to them, they all got really stiff and started acting weird. It was very awkward so eventually, my boss put his arm around my shoulder and walked me away from the other guys and asked me what I thought they were talking about before I arrived. I said I had no idea and I just wanted to get out of there. He told me to stop and just think about it as he motioned toward a beautiful woman. Then I knew, they were talking about her. That really made me want to leave, but he just told me that the moment I understand that walking into a room and changing the dynamic of the room is a strength and not a weakness, is the moment I will be successful in this business. But he also warned me to not mistake this as power. That conversation was so profound to me because I learned that I don’t have to dominate the room and that being female did not mean I was lesser than, just different. I used to perceive my being a woman as a weakness, not a strength, so that was powerful in helping me to know and understand that I’m just different. I have to be OK in my space and not get caught up in any weirdness.
Yes, I am a woman, deal with it.
From the position of being a woman, whether it’s in a male dominated field or in any space, women can be most catty to other women, but that gets us nowhere. We have to be very careful and help advance other women. It’s just going to make the world a better place when women can take a rightful position in leadership. There’s a lot of research right now that shows that when you have thirty percent or more women on the board of an organization or in senior leadership, those organizations are far more successful than those that are all male dominated or significantly male dominated. And it makes sense. Women think differently, they bring something else to the table that men don’t bring. So why not embrace that?