I had the pleasure of spending this week with one of my favorite peer groups, the Truman Scholars Association. The Truman Scholarship is an award given to college juniors who are committed to careers in public service, and who have demonstrated “leadership” potential. It’s also an incredible network of passionate, hard working people whom I have a lot of respect for. So there we were at the TSA conference- JAG lawyers and Capitol Hill policy wonks and nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs, and young bucks like me- gathered downtown for discussions and speeches and panels, “leadership” a theme running through them all.
One of conference discussions that has been heavy on my brain was the Women in Leadership panel. In the beginning of this panel, there was a lot of discussion about representation. Why women are underrepresented in the top level of nearly every sector, what we could do about it, and all the wonderful differences having women in leadership can make. But towards the end of the discussion, variations of one question began to gurgle around the room: What then? What when we’re in the room, in the leadership positions, but nothing else changes so it still sucks? What when women make up half or even a majority of leaders in a field, but everyone is still compelled to operate under the same patriarchal codes of what “leadership” and “professionalism” mean?