On Leadership: Working With Female Supervisors in Our Male-Dominated Profession is an excerpt from a two-part feature written by Katie Gwinn Hewitt and Olivia Coiro for CoSIDA 360 Magazine.
Exploring "Sparkles & Sports Issues" can be found here or in print on page 20 in the February 2017 issue of CoSIDA 360.
While it’s arguably the best time in American history to be a working woman, being a female SID still has its challenges. As Olivia Coiro and I often discuss in our blog, Sparkles & Sports, there are many times when we feel that a metaphorical glass ceiling still exists, and we question our ability to rise up the ranks to leadership roles in the future. Thanks to our readers across the country, we know that we are not alone in our concerns.
Thankfully, my current job is great in terms of gender ratios, affording opportunities to women, and general leadership overall. Of the twelve SIDs working at my institution, four are women -- which from my experience is a pretty impressive portion. As a collective group of four, we are the primary contacts for ten of our university’s 31 intercollegiate sports, including three male teams. The days are long and the job is often challenging, but I feel very lucky to work at a place where I have not just one -- but THREE female examples to learn from.
With our industry being very male-dominated, I’m not sure there are many people who can say that they have four women working in their department, even if that department is large like mine. I’d also bet that there are even fewer people who have a female supervisor, and it is probably even more of a rarity to be a woman that reports to a female supervisor. Regardless of the probability, that is my current situation. I am the only female SID I know who reports directly to another female.
Prior to my position at the University of Michigan, I never had a job in sports where I reported directly to a woman. I’m under 30, so I realize I’m still young in my career, but still. To reiterate my point, I didn’t know anyone in the industry who had a female supervisor until I accepted my current job in Ann Arbor. Other than myself, I still don’t know a single person who does.
My current supervisor is a little older than myself but still “young” by most standards. We share an office - along with an awesome male coworker - and I think we’d both agree that we have built a great working relationship over the past year and a half.
We are both hard workers. We both constantly aim to be better at our craft(s), and we both are hopeful for a bright future in this field.
The key to keeping this relationship a positive one (at least from my seat at the table), is to never compare myself to my supervisor. As we all know, there is a large gap in the number of male leaders in this industry compared to female leaders. Thankfully, that gap is shrinking and we’re seeing more women earning and accepting positions of leadership, but the gap still remains. With this in mind, I’m fearful that with the number of women in this industry continuing to grow, there will be more negative competition in an effort to rise up the ranks to a limited number of leadership positions.
To illustrate this concept, I will use the example of my supervisor and myself. You see, I am very competitive by nature, and I’ve always striven to be faster, better, and stronger than my peers. It would be very easy for me to resent my supervisor for her position of authority because the position is one I want down the road. It would also be very easy for me to be critical of her leadership style just because I might “do things differently” if our positions were swapped. With our age range being so close, it would be very easy for me to believe that I’ll never be afforded opportunities because leadership opportunities are limited and it’s clear that my supervisor is already on that track.
All of these things would be easy for me to do or feel, but they would not be right.
To all of my fellow female colleagues out there, the following advice is for you. If you are ever lucky enough to report directly to a supervisor who is also a woman, embrace it. You both have the opportunity to further the relevancy and importance of having female leaders within this industry, and to even have that chance speaks volumes.
In addition to our working relationship, my supervisor and I have built a solid friendship, which I am thankful for. We are able to speak casually about work, life, and everything in between, which is a luxury that I’m sure many in my position wish they had.
In my opinion, having that friendship helps further our professional relationship by keeping open lines of communication. Instead of being critical of my supervisor behind her back (which I would never do, but certainly know that there are people who do this), I can offer my opinions and know that they will be taken into consideration. I also like to think that I have a unique opportunity to help my supervisor become a better leader through practice and experience, which will benefit us both in the future.
I’m still hopeful that I will be able to earn a leadership role at some point in my future, and as time progresses I feel more and more confident that that those opportunities will come. Until then, however, I’m joyful that I have the opportunity to work alongside three great women at the University of Michigan.