I was recently invited to speak at Purdue University and had the absolute pleasure of spending time with Dr. Beverly Davenport Sypher.
Dr. Sypher had some important statistics for us to consider before we moved into the fascinating reasons she chose higher education as her vocation.
We all go to school, most of us graduate. School is a good place to be. There used to be a time when a majority of young girls, ready to explore higher education were told by their parents (mostly fathers) that it was a waste of money for them to go to college; they would “just” end up getting married, becoming pregnant, and staying in the home raising children and taking care of “the” husband.
How times have changed! There are more females matriculating in colleges and graduate schools than males at this time. So, inroads have been made. Yet, there is more, much more to do.
Here are some statistics about higher education: women do get promoted in universities; yet, more men are still in the leadership positions. In 1980 24% of women were tenured, now, three decades later it’s around 24%. Think about it, in 30 years we’ve only moved 10%.
Yet, women are making a mark, and it is important to keep the dialogue open and exciting. Rather than focus on the glass ceiling imagery, we need to continue to build a bridge of partnership with the men in our specific areas of chosen work.
Now, to Beverly; she is a warm, super smart woman who has a passion to make a difference. We talked about where the seeds of the dream to be a teacher began. “Remember, Sylvia when you were at Purdue and you gave us an exercise to do about what we dreamt about doing/becoming when we were little kids?
My only role playing I remember was setting up a row of chairs and being “the teacher”. I can’t conjure up who I enticed to be my students; maybe it was a bunch of dolls. Yet, I do remember I loved playing school.”
The next question was about who entered her life as she got older to help lead her in the education direction. Beverly got quiet for a moment as she went to that gentle memory place where past happenings create the present reality. “I was in my junior year of undergraduate school and I was thinking about going to law school when a professor asked me to be his teaching assistant in a communications class. As soon as I stood in front of the students I knew, absolutely knew, this is where I want to be”.
Then her mind, darting back to the past and then into the present talked about this man who was there at exactly at the perfect time for her. “He is still a mentor and advisor to me. It’s amazing how there serendipities happen, often at just the right time.”
As Beverly climbed the ladder of career success she has seen the challenges mount. “I did not feel constrained as a woman; in fact I felt that all things were possible. As I’ve gotten older I see constrains to gender, interestingly, more that in the past. Go back to what I said about the stats for tenured females in universities.
Here is the conundrum, women at both ends of the spectrum still get judged harshly. Women who are too strong and direct and women who are too emotional and giving are viewed negatively.”
We talked about the behavior patterns in my book “Don’t Bring It to Work” and especially the one that is all too familiar to women, the pleaser. Her response is one of a modern day thinker who wants to create harmony rather than dissention, “I don’t think we have to change personalities, we have to change the views and values that keep these stereotypes in place.”
We agreed that as women become stronger they are more adept at telling the truth without blame, judgment, or attack, the opposite of the pleaser pattern.
And that is what Bev models. She is a soft and strong woman who uses intuition and logic to help her colleagues, her students make wise decisions and become the best they can be.