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POWERcast: Diverse Experiences and Women Leaders
15th December 2021 • Leadership Forum: The Podcast • John Glenn College of Public Affairs, The Ohio State University
00:00:00 00:28:17

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Women are impacted by the world differently. These diverse experiences help women form unique leadership styles, which are becoming more essential in public service workplaces and beyond. The inspirational Wendy Smooth and Stacy Rastauskas join Tina Pierce for our first Leadership Forum: The POWERcast, which focuses on challenges specific to women leaders. This powerful panel shares ways to find your passion and get started in public service and how they have channeled their unique experiences into leadership growth. 

Stacy Rastauskas, vice president for government affairs at The Ohio State University 

Wendy Smooth, associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies, College of Arts and Sciences; and associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, Office of Academic Affairs, Ohio State

Tina Pierce, POWER program manager and senior lecturer, John Glenn College of Public Affairs 


Tina Pierce 0:08

Political Science Review. In:

Wendy Smooth 2:57

Thank you for having me.

Stacy Rastauskas Bretherton 2:58

Thank you, it's a pleasure.

Tina Pierce 3:00

So we're gonna jump into our first question. Research suggests that men and women sometimes exhibit different leadership traits based on their gender. Would you agree with this? And do you find that your gender influences your leadership style? And if so, how?

Wendy Smooth 3:20

So I'll start. Um, so certainly, there is a great deal of literature that points to gender differences and women's leadership styles. And also the ways in which women have access to particular to particular leadership positions. I actually point out in my own work, and I think it's borne out in my life experiences, is that it's not so much a factor of my gender being the defining factor in terms of my leadership style, but it's about the experiences that my gender has generated. And I think that's similar for other leaders across sectors. Women in Politics will frequently talk about their experiences as mothers or their experiences of discrimination in the workforce, or their experience based on gender, and also gender and race, oftentimes. And it's a factor of those experiences and the ways in which you walk through the world that define how you respond to world events, to crises to problem solving. And I think that's been very true. In my own experiences I've become, as I became a mother, I became much more sensitive to work life balance issues, in forming the ways in which I lead my graduate students and also now the way that I lead my staff in the college just informed your outlook.

Tina Pierce 5:05

Thank you so much for that, Wendy Stacy.

Stacy Rastauskas Bretherton 5:09

Yeah, I, I agree. And I'm glad that the professor could go before me because I think it validates the research validates what I've seen in practice. And you know, even personally, my career has been in politics and in higher education. And I became a parent, sort of halfway in between. And I remember distinctly thinking some issues were of such great importance and spending a lot of time after hours, trying to address them and really getting very, I'd say stressed about it. And now I look back as a as a parent, it teaches it teaches you what's really what is really a top priority. And and how do you how do you use time management to address and then as well as the, the items that Wendy talked about in terms of empathy and sensitivity and understanding that there are just different work styles out there just like they're different. And being a parent of now too that there's the there's the, you know, a lot of differences and how, even in the same environment, and with a lot of the same genetics, do people respond to situations differently. So I think that, though, I will say, in both higher education and politics, and particularly at the federal level, and politics that I had, from very early on, my first boss, that was a chief of staff was a female, there were females around me that were my mentors, that in both higher education and politics, so it's at the federal level, so it's a little bit different, you know, um, you don't always hear that, but for me, it wasn't, I never felt like my next step could be achieved because of, because of my gender.

Wendy Smooth 7:04

You know, adding, if I could just adding as well as Stacy's talking, it's making me also think about the need to point out that women are not all the same, we can't treat women or any group, as a kind of monolithic group, we really do have to think about individuals, leadership styles and individual's pathways into leadership's and into leadership and the decisions that they make. Because if we, you know, use a flat brush, then we expect all we get into these habits of expecting that all women will do the following, they will be caring, they will be nurturing. And we simply know, that's not the case. There. We have, thankfully, now in politics, especially. And in business, we have a broad array of different types of women leaders. And I think that makes us a really, we're in a productive space, when we can point to various leadership styles and not have a singular expectation that because someone is a woman, they're going to act a certain way, they're going to be a certain way.

Tina Pierce 8:13

And Wendy, I appreciate that, because that also points to these barriers that women needs to overcome to be successful, whether you're in higher education, the workforce in the classroom, even so understanding that we're not a monolithic group, and that we do have different leadership styles and different experiences that will inform how we navigate and enter into spaces. And so as we think about some of those additional barriers, can you identify what those barriers are for the advancement that women are able to achieve? Again, as we're seeing it kind of during COVID, and maybe even after COVID? Have those barriers changed?

Stacy Rastauskas Bretherton 8:58

Maybe I'll start and my, my initial thoughts are my response to this is yeah, there, there are barriers and they I think we've talked about it a little bit as in terms of childbearing and child rearing. I, you know, I had my first child at 36, which was later at least I was midway through into well into my career, I'll just say that I hope I wasn't midway through but well into my career. And I was very, I was in a position where I was, I knew my standing I had a lot of competence, and my bosses had confidence in me, and I think they were worried that I would want to take that opportunity to leave and so there was a really intentional I remember recruitment, or retention, excuse me, as I was I was I was entering into that and I joked that I wasn't really sure I knew how to be a mother, but I certainly knew how to be a lobbyist so that they didn't have to worry about leaving, but nevertheless, it was hard and it was an adjustment in my in my work and I think so I think I think that's that's certainly one. And I appreciate the support that I got that and now as a manager, who has who have people of, you know, my employees that are becoming parents, both men and women, I really have a different philosophy than I, that I may have had, or at least I certainly am very attuned to both that retention that need to give them the competence to, you know, to have their their children or adopt their children and bond with them early on. And that that continues, it doesn't stop when the FMLA runs out, of course, right. So anyhow, I think that's, that's a barrier that is to success in it. And it doesn't stop just after you have the baby, as we all know, you have to continue and COVID coming into the conversation about COVID, it shone a really big light on on how do you balance and continue to work and to educate when when so much of the educational system was moved to parent tend to play a much bigger role. And that's a challenge. But for women, and Wendy, I'm sure you have a statistics of the impact on women, dramatically more, but both women and men.

Wendy Smooth:

So I couldn't agree more. We also, you know, one of the this last point that Stacey brings up in terms of the pandemic, you know, the issues that are lingering around child care. We really saw the importance and the challenges that families face daily in regards to childcare that were became extenuating circumstances. In light of COVID. Many of us were working from home, we were also working from home and homeschooling, there was a shortage of available childcare. For people who had returned to work, even in the capacity of their own homes. We continue to see the ill effects of a childcare system that is not sufficient for most American families. Because we're you know, as we look at labor shortages, a lot of the labor shortages that we're seeing currently are the results of inadequate childcare in our communities, is even when we're thinking about kids who, at this point that we're speaking are still not able to access the vaccine, to protect them from COVID. It means the childcare centers have often closed abruptly, when there has been a COVID positive test. It means that kids are home quarantining when they have been exposed to the COVID COVID virus, and that's had a really extraordinary, extraordinary impact on families. And we can say, oh, that's impacting families, but we still know and US society, women still disproportionately are responsible for care work in the home. No matter how we've divided out those timelines and done the studies to crunch the data. Yes, we see that men are more involved in and contemporary families. But we still overwhelmingly see that these burdens fall to women to negotiate. The other thing I'll say about the pandemic that we seem to be drifting away from, and I hope we return to some of these questions. When we look at those in the labor market, who were most impacted by the Coronavirus. And we look at frontline workers, whether we're looking at health care workers, and nursing, nursing, nursing home care providers, childcare providers, grocery store clerks, that wonderful Instacart shopper who delivered our groceries for us, and all forms of people who are working in the gig economy to make our lives comfortable. During the pandemic. Those were disproportionately women workers, because we know that women occupy the majority of those occupations. And we still have some challenges in terms of thinking about the ways in which those employees experience the pandemic and continue to experience the pandemic it really speaks to our policy needs around sick leave and around a host of other issues that support workers adequately.

Tina Pierce:

Last question so in addition to these trends that we're seeing around universities responding differently as a result of COVID-19 to ensure that students have access to online learning that workers can have these meetings via Zoom and have the remote work options. What other lessons have emerged so far? In terms of women's voices and leadership during this current crisis? And what new questions should we be asking in a COVID-19 context?

Wendy Smooth:

Well, one of the things that I would, I would point out is that, oh, we have some really great examples throughout the pandemic, and especially when we think about our policymakers. And I've given a lot of thought, to the ways in which a representative like representative Ayanna Presley, who's an African American woman representative, out of Connecticut, forced us to ask some different questions about who was being impacted by the pandemic. And she was one of the lawmakers to call for disaggregating, the numbers of COVID cases that we were seeing by race and ethnicity that allowed us to see and drill down into which communities were being most impacted, how we could trace the impact of the virus in various communities. And that's a real lesson one of the one of the things that she cites as to why she was calling for the disaggregation of that data is that she was seeing the effects of the virus in her own community and in her own family very differently than what she was hearing in terms of how we were talking about the pandemic early on, and who was impacted by the pandemic. For me, that teaches us that it matters to not only have women's voices in decision making roles, and as leaders, but it really matters to have diverse groups of women represent in representative roles and policymaking. And board rooms, in all forms of leadership positions, because again, I returned to what we talked about earlier, based on one's experience, you see the world differently, you're impacted by the world differently. So we really do need a diverse group of women present at the table and in our decision making space.

Stacy Rastauskas Bretherton:

I'll echo Wendy's. Last sentence, and that that's absolutely true. I spent a lot of time working with the state of Ohio, as the head of government affairs for this university and making sure that the decisions that we made are in alignment and our, the state was aware of our approach and really trying to be partners at all levels. So, you know, Governor Dewine, when he took office, made it a priority to have a diverse cabinet. Right now I over half of his his 26 member cabinet is female. Everyone, I shouldn't say everyone, but most everyone in Ohio, you know, benefited from Dr. Amy Acton, who was the then head of the Ohio Department of Health, who would the governor for months and weeks and weeks and weeks on end, gave daily press conferences to keep us informed about about the pandemic. And I think that, that that was such an influential, she was such an influential voice in a different voice and how we, as Ohioans, were able to have the tools that we needed to make decisions about how we were going to navigate through through this crisis. But I would say, you know, I have have looked at the again, we work closely with the administration, no matter who's in charge, but the fact that it's not just one leader, she was the face of that pandemic, but multiple leaders across the cabinet agencies and in his and his team have been are female. And that's a again, it's a contributes, I think, to the ability for us to have conversations about issues that that are really run the political spectrum, so.

Wendy Smooth:

You know, she got national attention, people were very excited about and comforted in some ways, and we can, there's a host of researchers out there who were doing work around her communication style, during the pandemic, and the ways in which citizens responded to her actual delivery and explanations as a particular type of leadership. So I'm glad you raised that because Ohio was really put on the national map for our communication strategy with with the citizens of the state.

Stacy Rastauskas Bretherton:

I might just circle back to the theme that we talked about at the beginning. Yes, I think it had to do with Dr. Acton's gender, but it also was her her experiences as a researcher, you know, as a, as a, as a student, who, who really had, she has a very interesting life story that contributed. So from her time again, as a practitioner, a medical practitioner, but also as a faculty member at our Ohio State University, College of Public Health, and others, you know, she you had to really knows how very, you know, into work with scientists, but also, you know, prac, with its citizens and our community members on the ground, the real impact of, of the work of a place like the Department of Health in the state, so so all of those experiences, I think, contributed to, to her leadership style, gender, of course, being one of them, at least, that's when you can do the research to confirm my, my, my thesis there, but.

Wendy Smooth:

You're spot on, you're spot on, I only add in her socio economic background as well, which she's very forthcoming around. It's just adds these wonderful intersectional layers to how we evaluate leadership. Absolutely.

Tina Pierce:

This conversation is so awesome that we actually have a question from the audience. So we want to give the audience a chance to ask a question.


My first question is, for women who are trying to get their foot in the door, or starting to either get into politics or advocate for an issue in their community, what is a piece of advice you would give to them? And slash, or can you tell us if somebody opened the door for you, and if you had a mentor early in your career that helped you kind of navigate your passion and find your way in?

Wendy Smooth:

Well, I always I love the the programs of POWER as the Glenn school, I've often had opportunities to work with new leadership, which are undergraduate offerings for women to get involved in, in thinking civic mindedly and how they act on that. So I always tell the groups of young women that I talk to, and women in my classes, some of them are cross listed with the Glenn, so take classes if you're listening. Plug shameless plug. But I tell them to pick an issue, pick something that matters to you pick something that is of high impact in your life, and learn about it. And once you've learned more about it gives you the pathways to become active around those issues. But if you pick an issue, you're like, you're, you know, very likely to stir up those anger muscles, which I think are really great to have, whether you're in politics, or you're in philanthropy, or you're in the board room. And anger is not a bad emotion. It's a motivator. So get angry about something and start working in learning more about it. And oh, gosh, of course, I've had mentors that opened the door for me. And it's incredibly important for me that I opened the door for others, as a part of a tradition, especially of women of color in the academy. I had a fabulous academic mentor, who she wasn't nurturing, she wasn't soft, she was hard as nails. And you had to figure it out. But I knew that she was invested in my success, and understood that my success was also important for the way that she advanced in the validation of the work that she and many others have been doing. As women of color in both policy and in, in the academic setting, because she crossed both, both areas, so as one just one of many mentors that I that I can count, but mentoring has been critical.

Stacy Rastauskas Bretherton:

So Wendy, your first, your mentor sounds like mine, and different fields, but in politics, she wasn't warm and she wasn't, uhh, she was tough. And she was very tough. I felt on on me and but I know like many good tough teachers and educators that after the fact and even during the fact that I knew that it was making me a better a better team member for the organization that I worked for and a better employee for sure. And I and I appreciate that to this day and continue and I guess what's really neat is that she has now run for office. And so I've been able to support her in ways for that and not in Ohio. And so it's, it's a lot of fun to see, to see the, how she educated a group of us about how to how to be policymakers and how to, and how to work in as a team and as individuals, and then see her, again, transitioning to the second question, what advice do you give to somebody who's interested in running for office? I think I concur with Wendy's, you know, pick an issue. But I'd say also recognize, I think, and talk to people who have done it before. Because it's, there are real benefits to it. But But I think you have to go through that process. And when people come to me to say, I'm thinking of running for a position, what would you say I, I give them the unvarnished advice of you know, this is going to be something that isn't just you, it's your whole family. And for many of the positions, but even even if they're small, I should say small, but even if they seem like they're not going to be a member of Congress, but a school board, those those take time, and really do involve all of your, your, your family. And so I think that's, that's my piece of advice. But it's also, don't let that be the barrier. Because as we've talked about, you know, the family and the life experiences that you bring to it are part of what makes what we need in public service these days, so.

Tina Pierce:

As a mentor myself one thing that during COVID, I've really paid more attention to and being intentional about is self care. And so that is one of the things that I think as we think about the role of mentors, you know, we've all had those tough ones. And some of us have had mentors that are a little bit softer, and they'll coddle you. But it has been the mentors that have said, Tina, make time for Tina, Tina, who are you outside of just being the scholar Tina, who are you outside of being the mom, Tina, what? How can you elevate your voice and platform to help those around you, but at the same time in such a way that it protects you that you're not giving so much of yourself that it's impacting your wellness, both mental or physical. And I'm often reminded of a quote that says you should serve from your saucer you should not serve from your cup. So in that regard, I think with COVID-19 I want to remind all of our women out there to make sure to take care of yourself to make sure that you're doing the things that make you happy that feed into your spirit because we can't take care of our families. We can't take care of our communities, if we have nothing to give if we don't have anything that's filling us up. So definitely started from your saucer and come come come to all of the great programs that we offer here at the Glenn College.