An interesting column by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg made me think of some of the ups and downs of learning to teach in an environment where most of the people around you are men.
One of the first things you learn pretty quickly is that your range of acceptable behavior tends to be narrower. Be too assertive, and we all know what those women are called. Be too nice and you’re a pushover. And be careful about humor – there are things a man can say that you, dear young female professor, just can’t. For example, my esteemed colleague Ian MacMillan used to tell a hilarious story about the invention of business class and how profitable it was for the airlines. His punch line was always, “and I have tried, many times with gusto, to make up the difference in free drinks!”. I could never get away with that joke. Instead, I could say something like “my husband has tried many times with gusto to make up the difference in free drinks, and I’m here to tell you it’s not a good idea”.
The trouble is that it is hard to learn these things without direct feedback, preferably from someone who has had to walk that communications gauntlet herself. These are the sort of issues we’ll be discussing in our forthcoming Women In Leadership course, a joint venture between the Athena Center for Leadership at Barnard College and Columbia Business School.