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Women who serve . . .

It’s been awhile since I have written. No excuses. We’re all too busy. I’ve been told I am taking up valuable “real estate” on the college’s home page, so here’s my latest installment . . .

Over the past several weeks I’ve been thinking about women who serve. Our veterans. Our civil servants. Our visionaries.

Our veterans. Several weeks ago Colorado First Lady Jeannie Ritter visited the college—Jeannie is helping us launch a program for recruiting women veterans to the college. The GI Bill—in its latest, very robust form—will pay for a woman vet to attend TWC without any additional cost. Between the GI Bill and the college’s deeply discounted tuition rate, we can educate those who serve. It’s the least we can do for the women who have served our country around the world, and particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our civil servants. Last week I attended The White House Project EPIC awards dinner and met Kiran Badi, the first woman to serve in the Indian Police Service in 1972, retiring three years ago. Kiran is a women’s college graduate (no surprise there!) and ultimately obtained a law degree in the late eighties. A social activist, she instituted many reforms and established two NGOs in the areas of welfare and preventive policing, prison reformation, and child welfare. “Yes Madam, Sir” is a film of Kiran’s life, directed by Australian Megan Donerman, which documents her extraordinary contributions.

Our visionaries. I want to acknowledge the amazing work of Marie C. Wilson, founder and president of The White House Project (TWHP). Marie founded The White House Project to advance women’s leadership, knowing that when women are leading alongside men in all sectors—politics, business, education, law, the media—we will have a truly representative democracy. Marie’s vision and the work of TWHP, particularly in educating us all about the continued leadership gap for women and strategies to solve the gap, make a difference in achieving that representative democracy. TWC is a proud strategic partner of TWHP as we collaborate to advance women leaders.

Our veterans. Our civil servants. Our visionaries. Women making a difference in the lives of many, and making a difference in how we see and understand women’s leadership.

I have a new niece—Alexandra Eva Lynn Gangone—Allie for short—and it is my hope that these women making a difference today will result in Allie have a real opportunity to lead when she is ready. I’m glad that The Women’s College, and its students—and women like Marie Wilson, Kiran Badi, and our veterans—are  part of making Allie’s future, and the future of all of our daughters, granddaughters, nieces—a little brighter by virtue of their service today.

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Are we ‘girls’?

Recently, the staff of the college went through a two day training facilitated by the university’s Center for Multicultural Excellence (CME).  During one part of the training we were asked to hold up a “web” of string about women that was interconnected, and attached to the strings were various cards labeled “joke” or “stereotype” or “television show” or . . . you get the picture. As part of the exercise, each of us had to read the front of the card and the back of the card. It was a sobering exercise, and I felt the weight of the “web” as each of us read the word “joke” and then the joke, read the word “television show” and then the portrayal of women in the show. When we were done, our facilitator slung the “web” over her shoulder and said “here’s what we carry as we move through the world”—the jokes, the assumptions, the media images, the weight of being women.

Gosh, I sound like such a downer! It reminds me of a stereotype about women that we don’t have a sense of humor.  But I have an amazing sense of humor, am even considered very funny by some of my friends (I particularly appreciate a clever pun!), and am known for having a loud and deeply-felt laugh at a good joke. So why am I not laughing these days?

I wrote in a previous blog about the absence of women in the 5280 magazine article on people of power and influence in Denver (and my letter to the editor was published this month with a link on the college’s website) and you should know, up front, that my primary “lens” on the world is seeing where women are—or are not. So I was heartened to read the front page of the Sunday Business section of the February 21 New York Times that featured Ursula M. Burns, the CEO of Xerox, on her efforts to orchestrate cultural change (“she wants its employees to take more initiative and be more fearless and frank with one another”) at Xerox. It’s also worth mentioning that Ms. Burns is African-American, married to a working dad, and together they have two children—a son and a daughter—and she was raised by a single mom who insisted that all of her children receive a college education. Quoting her mom, Ms. Burns says ““You have to learn and you have to be curious,” she would say. “You have to perform at your best. You have to worry about the things you can control. Don’t become the victim.””

But back to my sense of humor—or lack thereof. Did anyone else but me (and my best friend Barb, who called me on the phone throughout the Olympics) notice that the women athletes, regardless of age, were often referred to as “girls” and the men were never “boys”? That announcers actually referred to “catfights” when describing relations between women like some throwback to another era? And why is there men’s and “ladies” figure skating? And yet we saw powerful, athletic, graceful, talented women throughout the entire Olympics, bringing home all levels of medals throughout the competition from traditional arenas of figure skating to newer arenas of ice hockey.

Sidebar—in the February 26 Denver Post there’s a piece called “The Mix,” where it was reported that Paris Hilton, in an ad for Brazilian beer Devassa, is “in a short black dress preening and rubbing a can of beer on herself, to the delight of onlookers watching through her window.” Brazil’s Secretariat for Women’s Affairs, addressing a Brazilian regulations that say women cannot be treated as overtly sensual objects in commercials, notes that “it’s an ad that devalues women—in particular, blond women.” Ah, I imagine that some of you are thinking that the Brazilian Secretariat for Women’s Affairs doesn’t have a sense of humor . . .

When I asked our CME trainer “did you give us the web of jokes, stereotypes, and images of women because we work at The Women’s College” she answered “no—we do this with all of our groups.”

Back in the 1980s I was introduced to the work of Bernice “Bunny” Sandler who coined the phrase “chilly classroom climate.” Bunny’s research honed in on a phenomena—“micro-inequities”—that exist throughout the educational experiences in a woman’s life. One of those inequities, in and of itself, might not make a difference, but all of the little inequities tangled together, like the web of jokes, stereotypes, and images of women that we were asked to hold in our CME training, add up over a lifetime.

I want to follow the advice of Ursula M. Burns’ mother. I want to learn and be curious. I want to perform at my best. I want to worry about the things I can control. I don’t want to be a victim. And I even want to retain—and hone—my sense of humor. I do wonder when the day will come when women will be called women, when catfights are only used to describe a fight between cats, and when beer will be marketed solely on its merits—because to some, it’s actually pleasing to drink. I want to laugh out loud and appreciate a good joke. And I want the day to come when I no longer need my “lens” on the world to notice where women are—or are not—because that lens will no longer be necessary. Until then, it seems I will not settle to being just one of the “girls.”

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Lately I’ve been surprised to hear of a disconnect that exists . . . between what most people “believe” is the status of women in leadership, and the reality.

I am teaching a course that looks at the leadership gap for women–although women have achieved educational equity there is a HUGE leadership gap–the White House Project report Benchmarking Women’s Leadership shows that on average, only 18% of the positional leaders across 10 sectors are women. Now that’s a GAP! The data also shows a very small representation of women of color among those senior leadership ranks as well.

Being immersed in the education and advancement of women, I assumed that most women and men know this gap exists. But most people don’t and when informed of the leadership gap, they are shocked. I know this because the students in my class are teaching ME about the disconnect that exists between what most people “believe” is the status of women in leadership, and the reality. I am so grateful to my students for their candor, thoughtful reflection, and proper outrage as they dig into the leadership gap and the reasons it exists!

Some of my students were able to attend the recent panel conversation hosted by The Women’s College, The White House Project, and others to discuss Benchmarking Women’s Leadership. Marie Wilson, the dynamic national leader of The White House Project, moderated a panel of experts including Dr. Lucy Sanders from National Coalition of Women in Technology, Bertha Lynn from Channel 7 News, Reverend Bonita Bock from Wartburg University, and me. Over 140 were in attendance at DU on Tuesday morning as we talked about the White House Project Report. Marie’s goal is to travel throughout the US promoting the report, discussing its findings, and proposing strategies for solutions. Wilson and others, like Ambassador Linda Tarr-Whelan, propose the 30% Solution, a proven “tipping point” for women where real change in how they can exercise leadership can occur.

So what’s the 30% Solution? According to Tarr-Whelan, when 30% of any leadership level consists of women, their ideas, values, and approaches are more fully part of the entire work–they stop being only “women” and start being board members, C-level leaders, vice presidents, presidents, etc.–you get the idea. According to studies, the organizations that have at least 30% women in leadership have stronger business outcomes, more productive government programs, and access to a wider range of thoughts and solutions to the issues of the day.

Look around the places that you work, worship, or volunteer–who’s in the leadership roles? Who isn’t? Consider what you can do to begin to affect WHO is leading so that we are able to take full advantage of the strengths, intellect, and perspectives of women and men. Between Marie Wilson at the national level–and my students at the local level–I expect there will be more women and men talking about the leadership gap and working diligently to close the gap!


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The Coolest Women We Know

One of the best parts of my job is all the wonderful women I get to meet, women who really care about other women and their career advancement. Tonight I got to hang out with the Coolest Women We Know: Women’s Technology Association. According to their website The Coolest Women is a technology association with a unique, high-caliber membership of truly cool women and sponsor companies in high tech.  The group is committed to fulfilling its mission through:

•    Information/Experience Sharing and Networking Events
•    Support and Mentoring Programs
•    Thought Leadership Initiatives
•    Awards and Recognition
•    Awareness Campaigns
•    Membership and Sponsorship Programs

Coolest Women has grown rapidly since its start in early 2008 in the great Denver area.  Today, the Coolest Women are more than 100 women in Director and above positions representing 90 high-tech companies or companies that serve the high-tech industry.

These are REALLY COOL women. In a field still dominated by men, these women connect, network, advance each other–and truly want to help other women. And they are very interested in our college’s programs in IT and in our Center on Women and Entrepreneurship–they want to speak to our students, mentor our students, and share their wisdom and expertise with us.

Wendy Bohling, the fast talking Virginian with a heart of gold, is the leader of Coolest Women–Wendy is a partner in Magpie , and her bio reads as follows:

Wendy Bohling is a rare breed – a sales person who understands highly complex engineering “geek-speak” first hand. Don’t let her title fool you. She’s actually a tried-and-true, been-in-the-trenches software developer with 20 very successful years of engineering experience.

Wendy has become a dear friend in a very short time, and I am grateful to her for introducing me–and The Women’s College–to the Coolest Women We Know.  I look forward to cool times ahead as these women engage with the students of TWC–thanks Wendy, and all the Coolest Women, for reaching back and lifting up the women who are following in your footsteps!

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Instead of clipping coupons (which I really should do more often!) I tend to clip news articles and editorials that catch my eye. The title of this blog piece is the title of an editorial I’ve been carrying around with me since December 10, 2009 when it was published in The Denver Post. And given the most recent cold snap–unfortunately, one of many this winter–I thought it was time to write a bit about the single, homeless women in our city.

According to the editorial, “though services for homeless men and for women with children have been built up over decades, the number of single, homeless women–among society’s most vulnerable population–has spiked in recent years, and experts who work with homeless women in Denver ay many nights pass without enough shelter beds to go around for these women.” The Post editorial goes on to to call this fact an “appalling reality” and asks its readers to heed this reality as a “call to arms” to serve homeless, single women, and further provide strategies for church and civic groups to be part of the solution.

Upon departing Vietnam,  I came away with several impressions that still stay with me. Like how truly privileged many of us are here in the US. Like how in the US our poverty is somewhat “compartmentalized”–some of us could literally go through day after day, never seeing the depth and breadth of poverty that exists, even here in Denver (those of you who heard my State of the College address remember those statistics about women and poverty in Denver County . . .).

Editorials like the one written about the plight of single, homeless women are rightly designed to break down the walls that exist between those of us with means, and those who are not as fortunate. Terrell Curtis, executive director of The Delores Project <http://www.thedeloresproject.org/&gt; whose mission is to provide “safe, comfortable overnight shelter and services to unaccompanied adult women who are homeless and have limited resources. The model of service is one of hospitality, respect, and regard for the dignity of each guest,” notes in the editorial that “It’s going to take all of us” to address the needs of single, homeless women.

It’s going to take all of us. Might this be a service project that The Women’s College staff, faculty, and students consider as we open for our winter quarter? There are more deeply cold days ahead, and these women need our help. Martin Luther King Jr. said “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr. as quoted in Even Eagles Need a Push p. 109.

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Seriously? Are there really only four singular women in “The 50 Most Influential People in Denver”?

Happy new year everyone! I’m back from my trip to southeast Asia—and I think, finally re-acclimated sleep-wise and finished with jet lag—and the local magazine, 5280, was waiting for me upon my return. I looked with anticipation at this issue entitled “The Power Issue” to see who had been identified as “The 50 Most Influential People in Denver.” Perhaps I was assuming, since Dana Perino, former White House press secretary, was on the cover that I would see more women among the 50 most influential—was I wrong!

I found the first woman of the top 50 at #10—Denver Health CEO Patricia Gabow, known nationally as an innovator and leader in the health care industry. At #20 was Sarah Siegel-Magness and her husband, Gary Magness, the power couple that produced the landmark movie “Precious,” followed by new Denver Metro Chamber CEO Kelly Brough at #21, and then by Pat Stryker paired with Al Yates (Al was the third man of color listed in the top 50) at #22. I had to turn a few more pages to find at #39 Leslie Leinwand and Tom Cech, directors of the Colorado Initiative in Molecular Biology, and finally at #43 Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) and at #44 Michele Ostrander, head of the Denver affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Tally—out of 50, four individual women, and three additional women paired with a male personal or business partner. And as far as I can tell, no women of color. Hmmmm.

So what do you think? Personally, I am a bit surprised—actually, I was shocked. It’s 2010. There aren’t more women of influence, of power, in Denver?

I’m teaching a course this quarter in the college’s leadership studies program that will explore this phenomena—the absence of women at the top of organizations—and the reasons for their absence. One of the first studies I am having my students review is the latest White House Project (www.whitehouseproject.org) Benchmarking Report. The report documents the fact that, on average, women constitute a mere 18% of the positional leaders in any sector. It’s 2010.

Marie Wilson, the dynamic leader of the White House Project, will be facilitating a panel discussion on the Benchmarking Report the morning of January 26 in our beloved Chambers Center. I will be part of the panel discussing the report from the perspective of my sector—higher education—and others will provide perspective on a host of other sectors.

In the meantime, I am considering having my students this quarter conduct a study of their own—to help identify the women of influence in Denver and send that list to the editors of 5280. And I am reminded, yet again, of the importance of having a college dedicated to women, setting the expectation that its students will be leaders locally, nationally, and globally. For today, it’s clear that the “local” focus is as critical as ever.

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The majority of the visit to Vietnam focused on learning about and meetings the women and men of the Vietnam Women’s Union. The Vietnam Women’s Union (VWU) is a vast organization that has deep reach throughout all of Vietnam. The VWU operates at the national, provincial, and district levels, and penetrates through urban areas and into the most rural and ethnic minority communities, providing services and affecting change for women through policy advocacy and ensuring that women are present throughout the leadership of Vietnamese government.

The VWU has two training schools for women, one in Ho Chi Minh City and one in Hanoi (this school is applying for college status as I write), a very successful micro-financing operation (TYM), an extensive office, conference, and hotel facility called the Centre for Women and Development, and the first women’s shelters for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking in the country. Anything to do with women in Vietnam flows through the VWU. While in Hanoi we had several meetings with various members of the Vietnam Women’s Union and subsets of the Union, including the director of the Centre for Women and Development and her staff, the deputy director of the International Relations Department of the VWU, and the Vice Rector of the Central Women’s Training School and his staff.

Our first sets of meetings were at the Centre for Women and Development, where we met various staff members in the counseling and development, micro-financing, and in the VMU international relations bureau. Our primary contacts were Director Le Thi Thuy MBA, Centre for Women and Development, Vietnam Women’s Union and Deputy Director Tran Thu Thuy MA, International Relations Department, Vietnam Women’s Union. Both women are extremely well-traveled and well-versed in women’s issues in Vietnam and around the world. We viewed a thorough video that described the work of the Centre and also received a tour from Madame Thuy of the facilities, including the hotel and conferencing center. Deputy Director Thuy took us through the structure and reach of the VMU throughout the country and expressed interest in having TWC assist the VWU and its Central Women’s Training School in moving from school to college status—but more about that later!

We visited with staff overseeing the women’s shelters, which are called Peace Houses. They discussed the legal and cultural challenges that exist for Vietnamese women who are battered or sold into trafficking. We met with an intake counselor who is housed at the Centre, and then we were taken to one of the Peace Houses, where we saw where the women and children live. As we toured the house I was struck by the bravery of the women who created Peace House and the women who take steps to reside there. At the Peace Houses, women are taught life and transition skills, receive health information for themselves and their children, and engage in job training; many of the women create crafts and knit apparel for sale at the Centre shop. Issues of domestic violence and trafficking, as many of you know, are so deeply complex for the women who are victimized in these ways, and even in Western cultures we are not always adept at understanding the nuances of the crime and the plight of the victims. I greatly admire the VWU for taking on this critical issue and providing a place for Vietnamese women to find safety and shelter.

Madame Thuy and members of her staff hosted the three of us (Tiffani Lennon, Barbara Bauer, and me) for a sumptuous and very authentic Vietnamese meal. We had chicken, beef, shrimp, bok choy, soup, steamed rice, sausage dumplings—the food just went on and on, and Madame Thuy was very generous in the meal she provided. One of the staff members has a law degree, so she and Tiffani had a full-ranging conversation about the ways the law can be used to protect women and children in situations of domestic violence and trafficking. We also had an opportunity for more informal conversation about the structure of education in Vietnam, since education is such an important part of the culture. I am deeply grateful to Madame Thuy and the members of her staff for their warm hospitality and for their generosity of spirit and collaboration.

In another set of meetings we explored a possible partnership with the Central Women’s Training School as that school petitions the government to become a women’s college (that petition is currently awaiting final approval from the country’s prime minister, and if approved, the transition from training center to college will likely take two to three years and includes a significant building project). I enjoyed the meeting we had with Vice Rector and Dean of Business Administration, Tien Quang Tran PhD, and members of his leadership team. Vice Rector Tien Quang Tran received his PhD from the Australian National University in economics, and he has a history of working in the micro-lending area. He is very dedicated to the growth of the Training School and welcomed the opportunity to share the school’s strategic plan. The vice rector used a PowerPoint handout describing the current work of the school, the composition and education of its faculty and staff, and the academic programs and services. There are two particular points of intersection between the school and TWC that are present in both of our strategic plans. First, the school has a program called “100 CEOs” that has actually trained more than 400 mid-level women in the private sector to advance to the senior leadership levels; they are committed to the advancement of women into senior leadership positions. Second, the school is very dedicated to the growth and success of women entrepreneurs, and intends to create a BA in business administration with a concentration on women’s entrepreneurship. Additionally, the vice rector is very interested in collaborative research projects, and we described to him the research proposal we are proposing with YunTech that would be a comparative study on women’s entrepreneurship.

I learned so much during this visit to Vietnam. Our Western notions of order and regularity are simply not present here. People live in something I can only describe as organized chaos. Nothing seems to phase the Vietnamese. They walk, bike, scooter, and drive through streets that have no rhyme or reason; the streets can be one way, two way, or multi-way and everyone just figures out how to navigate the complexity of the road with the assumption that it all works—and amazingly, it does. Men and women on scooters sit straight forward, or ride side saddle, decked out in work clothes and heels, texting and talking on the cell phones that everyone has. Cars honk and blink lights at drivers who are too slow, to warn scooters that they are present, to ward off pedestrians, and to make sure they know that the driver is the boss of the road. Soup and noodle stalls abound everywhere, with all forms of preparation happening on the sidewalks and on street curbs. Women are selling fruit from dual baskets set firmly on their shoulders, and children seem to be taken care of by all as they run playing through the streets. All of this is done with an underlying calm that one wouldn’t typically see elsewhere. This has left me with a very profound sense of the pride, resiliency, and creativity of Vietnam and its people, and I am honored to have experienced this short time among the Vietnamese.

It remains to be seen what kind of partnerships can develop between TWC and the Vietnamese organizations that we visited during our time in Hanoi. Sometimes the logical connections aren’t always apparent up front, and while I know we share a common goal of advancing women locally, nationally, and globally, the means to that end may vary a great deal from a cultural perspective. And while Western culture, and particularly the culture of the United States, has been thrust upon countries like Vietnam, there is no corresponding push for us to learn about cultures such as Vietnam’s. If the college and its students are to lead locally, nationally, and globally, we must make the study and understanding of cultures such as Vietnam’s a priority; to me, this is an essential piece of a thorough and quality undergraduate education for women, particularly as TWC focuses on its students becoming bold leaders at home and around the world. When I return, I would like us to explore how to make global and multicultural studies a more integral part of the curriculum at TWC.

This closes this piece of my blog related to my trip to Taiwan and Vietnam. I wish everyone a very happy and safe holiday season, and a very productive and rewarding 2010. Cheers!

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