The University Record, April 1, 1997
doesn't always feel like success
By Rebecca A. Doyle
Parker Brothers Inc., when they created the game of Life, defined success as money, fame and happiness, and the player with the most dollars, hearts and stars at the end of the game was the winner.
But three women deans use a different yardstick in defining their personal success in the academic world and at the University of Michigan.
"The whole idea that is problematic for me is the set of recipes and descriptions of how you lead a successful career, or successful life," said Nancy Cantor, dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, at a women deans' forum last week. "Those recipes didn't fit me." Cantor noted that the "prescription" for success she was given made distinctions between doing work that would benefit her career and work that would benefit others. "I've always chosen the thing that you're n ot supposed to do," she said.
Cantor also addressed mentoring and its importance in career development and success.
"Nobody gets anywhere, man or woman, without help from lots of other people," she maintained. Formal mentoring, she said, includes ways of making things work---getting invitations, the things that you need to complete work. But the les s formal ways are essential to her day-to-day survival, and those come from relationships with people who do not necessarily have power over her. Students are essential mentors, she noted.
"In the formal view of mentoring, it is truly only mentoring if it is one-sided, where the more powerful person is the mentor," Cantor said, but the relationship involved in mentoring really benefits both parties.
Noreen Clark, dean of the School of Public Health, described herself as the most "ch ronologically challenged" of the three women deans speaking, and noted that the hurdles women face today are probably not the same as the ones she cleared.
Clark noted the importance of recognizing the changes that have taken place in academia. "You can get so involved in the moment that it becomes extremely difficult to recognize when the change comes."
Clark talked about differences in academic requirements, noting that when she was an undergraduate student, one of the requirements was that students spend a semester in "gentlemanly scholarly work" in the library. She petitioned for a change, and a change was made. As a faculty member, she questioned a policy that provided medical care and benefits for wives of faculty members without providing the same for women faculty.
"I'm old, but I'm not that old," Clark said in emphasizing that dramatic changes have taken place in a relatively short time. "These stories are not to suggest that things are easier now, but to suggest that we do make progress and we should recognize when progress has been made."
Clark also talked about mentoring, but noted that mentoring in any organized or formal sense did not exist when she was pursuing her career. Instead, she had a "scholarly friend" who was a faculty member and helped her to "think th rough things that were perplexing for me." However, the formalization of mentoring and "recognizing the importance of professional development is good. Being explicit about mentoring has enabled us to understand the strategies of how people, in general, can become successful."
Edie Goldenberg, dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LS&A), talked about her own experiences as being the first woman to do something ---the first woman majoring in political science to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the first woman director of the Institute for Public Policy Studies, the first woman dean of LS&A.
"This is a burden, being first." Goldenberg noted that when she was appointed dean of LS&A, "that's all anyone wanted to talk about. I just want to be dean; I want to live through the day.
"One of my goals has been to appoint enough women to positions of responsibility that they won't carry the burden of being first," she said.
Goldenberg also talked about women achievers being accustomed to getting top grades.
"But in our work, there is no A," she said, so it is important for women to find ways to recognize their successes. Goldenberg suggested that grading yourself every day and looking at the overall score, or considering activities much like batting averages would be more productive than paying attention to the amount of work remaining on the desk or dwelling on the negative things that had happened.
All three noted that success doesn't necessarily feel like success on a day-to-day basis, and it is easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of work that is left to do instead of keeping track of the completed and successful tasks.
The Women Deans' Forum was sponsored by the Academic Women's Caucus, the Center for the Education of Women, the Institute for Research on Women and Gender and the Graduate School. All five U-M women deans were invited, but Paula Allen-Meares, dean of the School of Social Work, and Ada Sue Hinshaw, dean of the School of Nursing, were not able to attend.