Today’s Leaders Inspire Tomorrow’s

December 15, 2008 | The University

On the heels — high heels — of this year’s historic campaigns by women for America’s two top jobs, a select group of more than 350 participants gathered Nov. 14 at the fourth annual CUNY/New York Times Knowledge Network Women’s Leadership Conference for tips on achieving their own ambitious goals.

The young student leaders may not be quite ready for White House runs. But their thought-provoking questions and ideas showed that they — as much as the female legislators, business executives and educators on the dais — exemplify the conference topic: Advocates for Change.

Five official student bloggers — all members of the 2008-2009 CUNY Women’s Public Service Internship Program — continually posted their observations throughout the seven-hour conclave at New York’s Roosevelt Hotel (to read their full reports, go to www.cuny.edu/womens leadership).

Bursts of applause were frequent from the conference-goers, most of whom were women. They cheered mothers who juggle family responsibilities, jobs and college courses they hope will help them break the infamous glass ceiling. They cheered the University, their colleges, their professors, each other. And they cheered two major new role models: President-elect Barack Obama and his early challenger, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton — who they’d just learned was being considered for Secretary of State.

Obama’s win has been a “sea change,” Chancellor Matthew Goldstein told the group, noting that “in 1964 there were black people who couldn’t vote in this country.” Now, he said, “Anything is possible. All that’s needed is a willingness to work hard, learn from the mistakes of others and have the forcefulness of purpose to say, ‘Yes I can.’”

“The reason we’re here today is to celebrate what we can do, and what we have done,” said Trustee Valerie Lancaster Beal, leading up to Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations Jay Hershenson heralding women’s initiatives and later presenting awards to Kim Jasmin of JPMorgan Chase and Brenda Griebert of TIAA-CREF, the conference co-sponsors.

An inspiring keynote speech by New York Secretary of State Lorraine Cortes-Vazquez, the first woman to hold that office, had students lining up to speak with her afterward.

Statistics — and experiences — shared during the conference indicate that women are still under-represented in leadership positions despite having more education than men. They are more likely to earn the minumum wage or less, often have to work twice as hard as men in the same jobs, and are held to different standards. The U.S. ranks 27th in the world for women as top executives — after such countries as Argentina, Cuba and South Africa, reported Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Management Gloriana Waters.

Many people believe the fact that wives do most of the domestic work in the home has a lot to do with “why women take less demanding jobs, jobs that don’t involve leadership,” said Interim Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost Alexandra Logue.

But there are signs of progress: Current thinking, e.g., that feminine traits, such as consulting widely before making a decision, are indicative of good leaders, Logue said.

“Leadership is hard for everybody, but we’re put in a box — you saw it in Clinton’s campaign,” said luncheon keynoter Carla A. Robbins, deputy editorial page editor of The New York Times. “It’s going to be better for you,” she assured young women in the audience. As for now, “You can have it all, but you’re not going to sleep very well.”

Young idealists often haven’t yet climbed high enough to hit the glass ceiling. But blogger Catherine Zinnel, a Macaulay Honors College senior and political science major at Hunter College, wrote that, while interning in state and city government jobs, she learned of “the double standards that are unfairly imposed on female leaders, from appearance to family responsibilities.”

Other bloggers reflected on the conference’s government panels:

“I was frustrated to see that if everything was so clear — we lack the money, we need the money, we need to do A, B, and C to see change happen — then why was it not happening? … Why are all these policymakers so clearly willing and dedicated to reform, still not seeing these reforms happen? I suppose it takes years of patience and perseverance, and activism on the part of the legislator’s constituency, to really get things done. I suppose, to echo this morning’s testament, we need to put more women on it.” — Macaulay Honors College senior Nastasiya Korolkova, an international relations major at Baruch College.

“Currently, about one-third of all City Council members are females. In contrast, in the CUNY Model City Council Project, in which high school students learn about NYC government and legislation … females make up two-thirds of all participants. Could we hope to see a greater female representation in our legislature in the near future? — Megumi Saito, a senior pre-law major at City College.

Elected officials discussing their views during panels on advocating for change in government were New York State Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson; Assemblywomen Barbara Clark, Deborah Glick and Annette Robinson; New York City Councilwomen Gale Brewer, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Rosie Mendez and Diana Reyna. The conference was chaired by LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow, with panels moderated by other women college presidents; it was coordinated by Pat Gray, the University’s director of special events and corporate relations. Closing remarks were by Ann Kirschner, dean of Macaulay Honors College.

Speaking on a panel about Justice for Women and Children in the Family were New York Family Court Judge Bryanne Hamill, CUNY School of Law Interim Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Angela Burton and professor Donna Hae Kyun Lee of the Battered Women’s Rights Clinic at the CUNY Law School.

What traits mark a good leader?

Some tips from keynoter Cortes-Vazquez:

* Be bold and courageous, which is not reckless, but fully conscious of consequences.
* Never forget the shoulders you stand on and the responsibility you have.
* Arm yourself with information so you can combat the misinformation.
* You have to be your word.
* If you need to step back because you get tired, transfer the power to someone else.

Waters adds: “Watch how people who have power use it. Pay attention …. You have to build that network. We have to build it.”

Most ambitious young people also know not to overlook role models of the opposite sex. John Jay College senior Ajibade Longe, one of the few male students in the audience, said he was there because he hopes to become an attorney specializing in human rights. His inspiration? His grandmother, who as a girl was denied an education in their native Nigeria, but now runs an elementary school there. “Out of nothing, she became something,” he said proudly — words often heard around CUNY.

Useful Connections

Women’s leadership (www.cuny.edu/womens leadership) is just one of many compelling subjects covered in a series of interactive University websites that put invaluable information at your fingertips.

You can hear audio and watch video illuminating key struggles for human rights and milestones in American history, learn about achievements of CUNY faculty and students as well as University philanthropic activity, find leads for jobs and get advice on personal issues including citizenship and immigration.

The websites, which are illustrated with archival photos and drawings, build on information featured on printed calendars issued over the last few years. Also available via these online sources are school curricula (for Grades 7, 8 and 11) developed by the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives at LaGuardia Community College.

Most of the information — published in partnership with The New York Times Knowledge Network — is available in Spanish as well as English.

In addition to the Women’s Leadership website — which summarizes the recent conference and includes links to blogs by students who covered the meeting — the newest in the series of online resources grew out of the 2009 City Life Calendar.

City Life: This highlights the importance of cities throughout American history as magnets for creativity in the arts, commerce and politics stemming from diverse people and ideas. The City Life home page also provides the links to several of the following topic sites, as well as to community service resources. www.cuny.edu/citylife

Let Freedom Ring: Listen to sounds of freedom, including slave narratives, Malcolm X’s “Message to the Grassroots” speech, songs of labor, and an interview with a Roe v. Wade attorney. www.cuny.edu/freedom

Nation of Immigrants: Immigration milestones from the 16th century to the present day are spotlighted via CUNY Radio podcasts, video of distinguished speakers and a list of prominent immigrant University alumni. www.cuny.edu/nationofimmigrants

Voting Rights and Citizenship: This section begins with events leading up to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and continues through contested elections and the expansion of voting rights to women, African-Americans, Native Americans and Chinese-Americans. It then moves on to discuss the country’s newest voices. Link via www.cuny.edu/citylife or www.cuny.edu/freedom

Women’s Leadership in American History: Read about the country’s First Ladies, women in politics, the nation’s four-month women’s strike for workers’ rights, women and war work, feminism and the women’s movement, and trends toward increased numbers of women in science and sports. Link via www.cuny.edu/citylife or www.cuny.edu/freedom

Student Jobs: The University’s employment-opportunities initiative aims to help students obtain part-time and full-time work, as well as internships. This site includes links to jobs as court interpreters, as representatives at New York City’s Citizen Service Call Center and with the U.S. Government Census Bureau for the 2010 census. It also provides information about the state’s next Civil Service Professional Careers Test, and links to numerous other employment resources. www.cuny.edu/studentjobs

Faculty/Student Achievements: Highlights include a faculty video showcase, podcasts of faculty lectures and features on faculty/student teams working on research projects in science and teacher development. www.cuny.edu/lookwhoisteaching

Philanthropic Activity: Read about alumni, friends and other philanthropists and foundations that are providing an unprecedented level of private funding to University schools and programs, supporting scholarly research by world-class faculty and endowing student scholarships at every college. “They are investing in CUNY, investing in New York, and investing in futures,” Chancellor Matthew Goldstein says. www.cuny.edu/invest and www.cuny.edu/investing