Women in Leadership: To the Modern Day Peripatetic

14 Nov

Women in Leadership: To the Modern Day Peripatetic

Ash Mayo
GALS Member

Choose your major early. Graduate early. Go to law school or medical school. No, don’t take time off—you’ll never get back in.  Don’t bother with a job if it’s any less than (insert your family’s favorite number here).

This is the truncated transcription of my Sunday phone call with my family. I call my parents every Sunday, and they catch me up on family gossip. They tell me to get a haircut, eat better, and then, generally, let me go on my way. However, this week “specialize” was rhythm and melody of the conversation.

What do I mean by “specialize”? This word arose in academia from the desperate situation of the economy. There is an emphasis on the academic disciplines most likely to earn high salaries after a college education. The sciences, the art of business, mathematics and computer science – any major or area outside the social sciences and humanities – are the darlings of the “specialize” crowd.

Specialize – this has become the mantra of many in America. My friends in college and beyond hear it. MSNBC writes of it. There is growing skepticism towards the traditional liberal arts education. More than that, it has come at the expense of the facts. The GALS Speaker, Ms. Julia Stasch, for our seventh week sought to challenge this call to “specialize”. Stasch, Vice-President of the MacArthur Foundation, spoke to a group of thirty UChicago students. She is, by every measure, a success. Her life, however, is the sort that would scare my parents out of sleep.

In her second year of Antioch College, Ms. Stasch dropped out “to find [herself]”. She taught with VISTA on a Native American reservation. She also taught history on the South Side of Chicago at Harlan Community Academy. In 1977, she helped found Stein & Company, a real estate development firm. She then became President and CEO of Shorebank Chicago Companies for a year. All the while, she was slowly gaining a college degree. The culmination of which would be her graduating summa cum laude from Loyola University. In 1997, Ms. Stasch served in the Clinton administration as the Deputy Administrator of the General Services Administration. Ms. Stasch stayed in Washington for only a few years before returning to Chicago to work for Mayor Daley first as the Commission of the Housing Department, and later as his Chief of Staff. Finally, the MacArthur Foundation hired Ms. Stasch for her current job of vice president.

Ms. Stasch’s life is the life of a peripatetic, and she attributed much of her success to this. She didn’t “cloak [herself] in an identity”. She stayed open to every opportunity.

Her speech was peppered with amusing anecdotes and relatable advice. When discussing her job history, Stasch admitted she had never run a real estate company or a bank despite her employer tasking her with these executive position.   The thought “oh my god, how am I going to do that?” did cross her mind.

After some reflection, however, she simply said, “I can do that.” Thankfully for our narrative, she succeeded with flying colors and with unwavering resolve. If she “specialized” in anything, it was resourcefulness, not a high-paying major.

Thank you again, Ms. Stasch, for coming to calm the fears of those (and their parents) who don’t yet know the direction their lives will take.
Below is Ms. Stasch’s list of leadership do’s and Don’ts for those of you who are interested:

1)   Do be confident. “Every woman has a core which lacks self-confidence, but you cannot let it define you.”

2)   Do be optimistic. “You cannot draw others without it.”

3)   Do be “comfortable with ambiguity”. Be able to shape your role and make the most of it.

4)  Do be funny. “It’s unexpected from a woman.” So crack a joke every once in a while.

5)   Do be tough skinned. As Mayor Daley told Ms. Stasch, “Not everybody is your friend.”

6)  Do take a seat at the table. If you don’t think it, no one else will.

7)   Don’t be afraid to interrupt. Respect others, but do not tolerate getting cut out of the conversation.

8)   Don’t let others take your credit. “Remind people of what you’ve done.”

9)   Do know when to pull back. “Ask for help when you need it.”

10)  Don’t “see your success at the expense of men,” because the world needs all of us.

Ash Mayo is a member of GALS. Her interests include gender equality and discussions on the role of sexuality in modern feminist discourse.

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