What I learned at Harvard: Part 1

Jennet Robinson Alterman
Executive Director
Center for Women
Charleston, S.C.

Jennet pictured with Dr. Hannah Riley Bowles

Jennet pictured with Dr. Hannah Riley Bowles

Last week I was one of 60 women chosen to participate in a seminar on “Women and Power” at the Kennedy School at Harvard. Nineteen countries were represented. One of the 4 women elected to the Kuwaiti Parliament in 2009, the first year that women were allowed to run for political office, was in attendance along with the biggest real estate developer in Mongolia. We had a diverse makeup in terms of professional affiliations as well with several members of the military, both US and foreign, and the first woman chief of a South African Zulu tribe.

Hannah Riley Bowles was the coordinator and chief lecturer and she blew the top off the impact of gender when negotiating. She shared good solid data on how women needed to approach conflict resolution and how to negotiate for base pay and raises. She roped in some of the best talent on campus to share their research with us such as Iris Bohnet, the Director of the Kennedy School Women and Public Policy Program and a behavioral economist focused on questions of trust and decision-making, often with a gender and cross cultural perspective. Pippa Norris, the McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics had a wealth of knowledge on democratic institutions and cultures, gender politics and political communications in many countries. Andy Zellecke, a Lecturer in Public Policy is an expert on leadership and corporate governance. He helped us unravel the past governance turmoil at both the Red Cross and the Security Exchange Commission. Sara Lightfoot-Lawrence, a Macarthur prize winning sociologist, shared her experiences writing her newest book, The Third Chapter: Risk, Passion and Adventure in the Twenty Five years after 50.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, of Harvard Business School fame joined us for an evening. Her comments centered on the importance of confidence in creating winning organizations. I was truly honored to be in the presence of the person who coined the term ‘token woman’. Our last day, we were in the thrall of Ambassador Swanee Hunt, an expert on women in politics and dedicated advocate for women’s rights worldwide. She reminded us that every time we speak before a group, we are auditioning for leadership and went on to share her recommendations for finding one’s voice.

It was a whirlwind and the days passed quickly, but the themes became evident early on. Understanding the differences between power and leadership, learning how groups come to decisions, effective conflict resolution, good governance, and the importance of negotiation and presentation skills. All of these add up to the formula for becoming a powerful leader. As women, we need more nuanced approaches in order to succeed. We all have these skills on some level, but for one week I was able to operate above that baseline and learn what it takes to soar. I am bringing that home now and will look forward to continuing the discussions here at the Center for Women. I am interested in providing a forum for such discussions and ask anyone who is interested in participating to speak up now.

I also anticipate expanding our programming to include more learning opportunities on the subjects addressed at this seminar. We have the talent in this community to offer programs on how gender affects so many management skills. We also have the role models who can share their expertise in navigating the shoals of their careers. What holds us back from seeking power and leadership positions? Help me answer that question by sending me your thoughts on how we can position Lowcountry women to take their rightful place at the decision and policy making tables.

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2 Responses to “What I learned at Harvard: Part 1”

  1. Barb Condit M.Ed. Says:

    Dear Jennet,

    What a powerful and insightful seminar this must have been. Your article exudes so much enthusiasm for women of influence, their numerous achievements and contributions around the world.

    I would welcome the opportunity to participate in discussions about women, power versus leadership. Specifically, my current interest is in accountability or lack thereof within our state of South Carolina. We are a strong group of intelligent, motivated women. We must fight to restore the integrity of women, empowering those who are motivated as leaders and not by ego driven power. Only as we continue to support those who demonstrate true accountability using core values such as fairness, honesty and good will towards others will we make the changes needed in our state and globally. I am confident that we have what it takes to be policy makers. Accountability is providing that these policies are enforced or changed as needed through the democratic process.

    The Center for Women in Charleston exemplifies leadership and good will for women by women. There is power gained through leadership.

    Sincerely,
    Barb Condit M.Ed.

  2. Jennifer P. Smith Says:

    I’ve always had an opinion on decisions to be made by leaders I’ve worked for. However, I’ve never stayed with a job/organization long enough to have earned the confidence (and position) where I could have my say.

    Sometimes I think men, who tend to be more linear, have an easier time setting a goal and striving for it. Whereas I tend to be fall into that stereotype where I have aspirations in many different areas and it is very hard for me to pick one and stay with it.
    More concrete, I think if someone had sat down with me and made me map out a career path or two (prior to declaring my college major), maybe that would have helped. At almost 40, I think I finally got my sights straight and can concentrate on a few similar goals

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