What Women Leaders Bring to the Table

We seem universally inclined to talk about our differences. Gender differences, in particular, can dominate central stage. With March being Women's History Month, here we are again asking how men and women leaders are the same or different! At The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, we recently convened a panel of female campus leaders and asked them just that question. Like many of the female leaders that have already shaped the history and profession of psychology, these women were as compelling in their leadership stories as they were different.

Like other leaders in our field, I am very proud of my personal history and journey, and regularly reflect upon how it shaped who I am today and who I strive to be tomorrow. Having been born and raised in Ireland, I could not escape the community-driven, value-based system that focused me on servant leadership, on joining others to lead from a position of mission and personal integrity, on attending to needs and aspirations of others over one's self and on the time-honored principles of community and institutional loyalty.

Also like so many other women leaders, I am asked to speak about leadership and explain why I have chosen a career and leadership path over other paths, like being a stay-at-home mom, for example. I am not alone. Too often, women leaders are described as those who are pioneers, came before their time, followed their dreams, challenged the status quo, made sacrifices and so on. At The Chicago School, over 80% of our student population are women. In our profession, we have iconic women leaders who came before us such as Christine Ladd-Franklin, Mary Whiton Calkins, Melanie Klein, Karen Horney, Leta Hollingsworth, Anna Freud, Mary Ainsworth, Mamie Phipps Clark and Sandra Bem, among others.

I'm not so sure we serve ourselves well, women or men, by asking what makes us different. Nor am I sure we serve ourselves well by asking which models of leadership best explain the "who, what, where, when" of leadership. I suggest we can do better by focusing on what our communities and institutions need from each of us, what strengths we each bring to the table and how we work collectively to lead towards the future. Men and women are different; that's part of the joy of being alive. Women and men are also much the same, we each need a purpose and spend our lives seeking out ways to contribute and make this world a better place.