Texas A&M at Qatar hosts panel discussion featuring female Education City deansPublished Oct 27, 2020
The Women’s Faculty Forum (WFF) at Texas A&M University at Qatar recently brought together four female deans in Education City for the first time to share their experiences and advice for other women aspiring to be leaders, particularly in academia.
The virtual discussion featured Selma Limam Mansar, senior associate dean of education at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMUQ); CMUQ Annette Vincent, associate dean of diversity and climate; Anne Nebel, associate dean for teaching, learning and assessment at Georgetown University in Qatar; and Rosalie Nickles, assistant dean for finance and administrative services at Texas A&M at Qatar. Professors Sara Hillman and Mary Queen of Texas A&M at Qatar’s Liberal Arts Program chaired and moderated the panel.
A common theme running through the stories that brought these remarkable women to leadership positions in Doha was their support networks. Each of these women are in their current positions because someone else encouraged them to be there — whether it was a colleague who supported them to go further, other deans or even childhood encouragement to pursue their leadership talents without male comparison. Vincent said she credited "excellent mentorship, which helped [her] to grow into [her] position and speak confidently,” while Nebel said she is "grateful to have worked with wonderful colleagues" who have made the process rewarding.
However, societal norms still hold women back from leadership positions around the world, panelists noted. As Limam Mansar described, perceptions of what is acceptable for a woman become "unconscious barriers against women." When women are raised to believe their role in life is to be the primary caregiver, it is difficult to accept leadership positions and overcome feelings of guilt about the perceptions of abandoning the family.
Nickles, part of the first generation of women able to receive a college degree in the U.S., encouraged the next generation. "We are the people right now breaking those barriers and moving forward. We need to make sure we're taking those opportunities afforded to us." Family and spousal support and agreement upon shared caregiver responsibilities are critical.
Academic administrations should consider many avenues to recruit and retain more women faculty and the panelists offered several. First, data on the subject is lacking and needs to be gathered and assessed. Next, it is critical for female faculty to feel respected by their colleagues and supported by their administration. If a female faculty member is in the life stage of having younger children, academic assignments sensitive of home life, childcare assistance at the pre-school level, and relieving promotional clock pressure would show tangible encouragement. This is a temporary stage that falls more heavily on women who many times choose family over a career. But with institutional support from colleagues and programs, women can thrive to achieve leadership positions as they balance work and home life. Additionally, spousal positions need to be available when relocating female faculty members to Doha. The panelists encouraged QF to open Education City universities for potential spousal hires to recruit more women. Universities can also promote professional development through leadership academies to help women to become more comfortable in these positions and ultimately to grow into admirable leaders.
Lastly, the panelists discussed the additional burden of COVID-19 on female faculty. For many faculty caregivers, the family's expectation has increased, as the distinct line between work and home has disappeared and family members crave attention and direction. Many female faculty have had to assume the additional duty of school teacher at home and finding a balance is difficult for them. However, new support networks enabled with technologies such as Zoom have brought some campuses closer together and allowed women’s forums such as the WFF at Texas A&M at Qatar and the Georgetown Women’s Alliance to share tips about easing the pain from the lockdown in both the home and the classroom. Another benefit is that time saved from commuting can be used to enhance other skill sets.
The panelists encouraged women at all markers on this journey to leadership. Limam Mansar suggested to take it one step at a time: "We can be leaders, but we don't have to be deans right away. Don't look at the end of the journey; look at what you're doing now." Nickles emphasized that even students can look at what they want to do and consider things to get them there. “The small steps will add up to big ones," Nickles said.
And although the passage involves collaboration and support from a multitude of individuals, it is ultimately an introspective one. As Nebel shared, "The journey starts with self-awareness. You can be a leader in any role. People once they embrace that within themselves can move forward in their own leadership paths."