Diversifying the Leadership in Women’s Research, Policy and Advocacy Centers, Simmons College

The Center for Gender in Organizations, Simmons School of Management, Simmons College

Patricia H. Deyton, Director
 
Introduction

The Center for Gender in Organizations (CGO) is the research and practice arm of the Simmons School of Management (SOM). The mission of the Center is to be a dynamic thought leader committed to improving organizational effectiveness by strengthening diversity, equity, and gender-sensitive policies in the workplace and serving as a resource for scholars, business executives and practitioners in all fields.

CGO envisions a world that is more equitable, and it works at the level of the organization, helping individuals and groups in organizations be more satisfied, effective, and fair in their dealings and their work across gender, race, and other social identity differences.

 

CGO holds the following core values and principles:

  • Commitment to organizational transformation for equity and social change.
  • Acknowledgement of gender in all its complexities; recognition that gender operates with other dimensions of identity such as race, class, ethnicity, and sexual identity in shaping organizational systems and practices as well as workers’ experiences.
  • Work at the intersection of research and practice, integrating the learning gained in practice into continuous learning in research.
  • Wide dissemination and application of knowledge to teaching, managing, training, and organizational life.
  • Creation of a vibrant learning community of practice for generative research in new areas, adaptive research for mainstream application, and support of the creative processes and work of its members.
 

CGO is staffed by a part time director and full time coordinator. It also includes academic Affiliates as well as practitioners who participate in its research, consulting, training and writing, some as paid consultants and others in advisory roles. Ten academic Affiliates are faculty at the SOM; ten are academics at other institutions of higher learning. Practitioners who work with CGO specialize in gender and diversity and come from all fields and locations. Both the director and coordinator are white women. Six of the academic Affiliates are women of color. Approximately one-third of the practitioners engaged by CGO are women of color. The broader community which uses CGO services includes all types of organizations and reflects the composition of the public.

 
Project Goals

The greatest strength of Center for Gender in Organizations is the scholars and practitioners affiliated with the Center. However, only one of the ten CGO Affiliates based at the School of Management is a woman of color, and as a result, although unintentional, the influence of white women is dominant in determining the direction of the areas of research, publications, speakers series, and other CGO activities. This project, shaped and implemented by the National Council for Research on Women and funded by the Ford Foundation, provided the Center an opportunity to address this imbalance and bring more women from underrepresented groups into positions to have an impact on overall programming at the Center.

 

To achieve this goal, the Center focused on two strategies:

  1. Creating a Steering Committee of Women of Color CGO Affiliates to provide a collective and influential voice in all programming.
  2. Creating a New Generation of Scholars Program to provide stipends and professional support to three young, high potential women of color engaged in significant research on gender and diversity.
 
 
Project Strategies 

Project Strategy One: Create a Steering Committee of Women of Color Affiliates at the Center for Gender in Organizations to provide a collective and influential voice in determining the direction of the areas of research, publications, speakers series, and other CGO activities.

 
The Plan

The Women of Color Steering Committee would originally grow out of the work of the six women of color Affiliates at CGO, who within the first four months, would hold a one-day retreat to:

·      develop a strategic vision and two year action plan for research and publications specific to areas of gender and diversity;

·      increase the number women of color speaking at CGO events,

·      increase the number of women of color available through the CGO speakers bureau, and

·      identify a minimum of five women of color scholars to be invited to become CGO Affiliates with a specific emphasis on recruiting Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans/Chicanas and Blacks and African-Americans. CGO’s strategic alliance with the Madrinas, a national organization of professional Latinas, and the international networks of the CGO Affiliates, would be resources for the recruitment of these women.

The original proposal called for the addition of at least five new women of color Affiliates by the end of the grant period and the implementation of all strategies from the action plan. It also called for an assessment of the program to be used to develop further action steps and help guide the future of the Women of Color Steering Committee as it becomes a vital and permanent part of the institutionalized leadership of CGO. The full project was to be highlighted on the CGO website and through public relations efforts at Simmons to draw attention to diversity and the value of these strategies.”

 
Implementation

Five of the six women of color CGO Affiliates participated in a one and one-half day retreat at the end of April, 2009 with the goal of creating the Women of Color Steering Committee and its plan for the future.  The participants included three African-Americans, one African (Ethiopia) and one Latina (Puerto Rico).  

 

The retreat agenda began with a presentation by one of the Affiliates, Dr. Karen Proudford, as part of the CGO Distinguished Scholar Speakers Series, followed by an intensive Learning Circle, led by Affiliate Dr. Evangelina Holvino on the “cultural scripts” of women of color and their impact on organizations and the advancement of women of color in them. Cultural scripts reflect the multicultural lives of women and are a way of understanding the differences in style and presentation in the workplace among different cultures. An awareness of the differences in cultural scripts provides more understanding and support, thus contributing to more effectiveness in organizations.

 
Outcomes

As a result of the retreat, the Women of Color Steering Committee agreed that:

·      One of the significant goals of their work in the future would be the advancement of women of color in organizations, particularly at management levels.

·       This retreat would be the first in a series that will be an annual part of the work of CGO by and for women of color Affiliates.

·      Learning Circles, held in conjunction with the annual retreat, will be led by the women of color Affiliates on topics of gender and diversity and open to other scholars. The Affiliates believe cultural scripts are an important research tool and should be used intentionally to increase and complicate the narratives of inequality.

·       The number of women of color CGO Affiliates will be increased by at least five.

·      CGO will provide support for writing and publication on the topic of Cultural Scripts: Complicating the Narrative of Gender in Organizations.

·      Funding required to support this program for a minimum of two years will be sought by CGO.

 

By the end of the grant period, a list of approximately ten candidates of color for Affiliate positions had been developed, although the process of recruiting and confirming at least 5 of them had not been completed. It is expected that that goal will be met by the end of 2009, and as a result, women of color will make up at least 1/3 of all Affiliates. The greater number of women of color Affiliates will provide increased access to women of color speakers as well as encourage more research, discussion, and publications on issues relevant to them.

 
Challenges

The largest challenge faced in the implementation of Project Strategy One was timing, and it quickly became evident that the timeframe in the proposal would need to be expanded. As a result, the retreat was held later than anticipated, which subsequently pushed back the timing of the recruitment of new women of color Affiliates. The realization of this goal will mainly take place beyond the scope of timing of the grant period.

 

The challenge that remains is that of locating funding to continue to support the Women of Color Steering Committee and its agenda. This challenge will be a priority of CGO in its future funding endeavors.

 

Project Strategy Two: Create the New Generation of Scholars Program.

The Plan

Following a broad-based outreach and a rigorous selection process by the CGO and the Women of Color Steering Committee during the first three months of the grant period, three young women of color scholars with strong potential, who are engaged in cutting-edge research regarding specific areas of gender and diversity, will be selected for the New Generation of Scholars Program. The selection process focused on scholars from the target populations for this proposal, namely, Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans/Chicanas, Blacks, and African Americans. The Scholars were to receive a stipend of $2,000 to assist with their research as well as mentorship in their research and writing by one or more members of the Women of Color Steering Committee.

By the end of the grant period, each scholar was to have produced a written document based on her research that qualifies for publication as a CGO Insights (an article that contributes to the knowledge in the fields of gender, diversity, leadership and/or organizational change). Mentors were to help ensure each Scholar’s success in meeting the time allotted for the research, writing and publication of her article, and CGO is to  provide the editorial, publication and dissemination support needed. The Insights are available internationally through the CGO website. In addition, the scholars receive credit for an “other intellectual contribution” for purposes of their academic standing. CGO was to highlight this program on its website.

 An assessment of the success of the program was to be conducted at the end of the grant period including an analysis and identification of resources required to continue the program based upon the assessment.

 
Implementation:

Prior to the formal convening of the Women of Color retreat, all six of the women of color CGO Affiliates participated in the design and implementation of the New Generation of Scholars Program. A comprehensive outreach proposal was developed and disseminated through multiple networks using both direct contact and a snowball technique. Eight applications were received, and three were accepted, all African-American. Each Scholar was assigned two mentor Affiliates, and timelines were put in place for drafts, review and revision of the writing.

 

The selected Scholars, their research topics and mentors were:

·      Tehmekah Macpherson, Syracuse University: "Alignment of Women of the African Diaspora with Ethnic and Gender deliberations."  Mentors - Gelaye Debebe, Audrey Murrell

·      Laquita Blockson, College of Charleston. "21st Century Sojourner Truths:  Gender and Ethnic Identity Influences in African-American Women Entrepreneurship." Mentors - Laura Morgan Roberts, Evangelina Holvino

·      Danielle Joy Davis, University of Texas, Arlington.  "Collegiality in Black and White:  Barriers to Access of Multiracial Networks amongst Women".  Mentors - Stacy Blake-Beard, Karen Proudford.

 
 
Challenges:

As was the case in Project Strategy One, timing has been a challenge in the implementation of Project Strategy Two.   We believe that the selection process was of high quality and well managed, but took longer than anticipated. Further, the process of writing, review and revision took longer than anticipated. Therefore, the three publications are slated for release in September 2009, beyond the grant period.

This will not impact quality, but will ensure that the highest standards are met. The School of Management has committed the funds for the editing and publication of the articles in 2010.

Another issue we confronted stemmed from the grant’s exclusive focus on specific historically under-represented groups. Several women of Latina background inquired and/or applied for the program, but since they did not fit the specifically identified groups, they were not deemed eligible. For example, a Cuban-American woman, who may or may not have come from a privileged class that immigrated from Cuba, was excluded, yet because the number of Latina women in academia is so woefully low, it seemed a flawed distinction. As a result, we were unable to include any Latinas in the selected group. It is our opinion that the criteria was too restrictive and led to a less than inclusive outcome.

Scheduling and financial pressures also impacted the project. The CGO director was unable to attend either of the NCRW meetings that were associated with this grant. In 2008 there was a conflict with a teaching schedule. In 2009, there were no travel funds available for attending the conference due to a freeze on travel at the Simmons School of Management.

The final challenge, as in Project Strategy One, is to secure the funding for the continuation of the program, which we will couple with the expansion of the definition of under-represented groups in order to achieve more diversity in the next round of selected scholars. CGO is committed to identifying the funding for both Project Strategies One and Two as its highest funding priority.

 
 
Conclusions
 

The success of this program is based upon several things. One is the fact that the Project Strategies were important, relevant and achievable in their design and thus attracted and retained the commitment of the CGO women of color Affiliates. They provided a concrete approach to change and concrete support to the new women of color Scholars. The strength of the specificity of the Project Strategies is, in fact, a best practice.

A second factor in success is the funding made possible through the grant and through the School of Management. This provided the ability to convene the Women of Color retreat, engage the Affiliates throughout the year of the grant, and provide stipends to the three new Scholars.  

As a longer term impact, the Women of Color Steering Committee will help increase attention on issues of gender, race, inclusion, and diversity at CGO. The Steering Committee, along with the New Generation of Scholars Program, will provide a rich source of cutting edge publications for use by the academic and practitioner communities. As the percentage of women of color increases in the ranks of CGO affiliation, their impact and voice will become even stronger.