When Pat Skinner became president of Gaston College in 1994, she was the
only woman serving as a community college president in North Carolina.
Today, she is one of nearly 20 women holding the community college post
in the Tar Heel state, a fact that mirrors the overall growth in women
joining the workforce across the country. Women accounted for less than
half of the workforce in 1970, but today represent nearly 50 percent,
and are projected to make up 57 percent of the labor force before another
decade passes. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
With the growing number of women across all career fields, they are also
increasingly ending up in leadership positions. For Women’s History
Month in March,
Gazette asked local women in leadership positions for their perspectives on what
it means to be a woman and a leader. While they agree women have unique
talents and abilities for leadership, they all emphasized that the basic
ingredients for successful leadership are the same for everyone, male
or female: respect and concern for others, hard work and commitment.
Balancing home, work
In her career leading to her role at Gaston College, Skinner was able to
observe the shift of women into the workforce and higher education. She
returned to school when her daughter was 4 months old. Skinner was the
only mother in her class at Ohio State University. At the time, she recalls,
there were few options for child care compared to what’s available
today, and most women who worked outside the home still did the majority
of the work inside the home as well.
“I like to think that some of us have paved the way … encouraging
support within organizations for women and men; women having the kinds
of leave they have now,” she said. Still, the balance between career
and life at home can be a challenge for women to navigate. Maria Long,
executive vice president and chief legal officer with CaroMont Health,
said many women in the legal profession lean toward in-house positions
rather than outside counsel because the hours allow them to maintain a
balance between home and the office. “Family and work are important
parts of my life. When I moved to in-house counsel, I did so because it
would allow me to fulfill my role as a mother and still have a rewarding
career. Finding balance between the two is something I think is imperative
to being successful,” Long said.
Room for all
Janet Sarn, market president and business banking manager with Wells Fargo
in Gastonia, has also observed a shift in women’s roles in the banking
world. When she started her career she was one of very few women on the
“wholesale,” or business, side of the bank, working directly
with and lending to local businesses. “That has changed quite a
bit,” she said.
Sarn said she doesn’t believe that skills in leadership are gender-specific,
but that each individual makes a difference through his or her unique
abilities. “The reasons people choose banks are for the people who
work there. People are a tremendous asset. The whole workplace has become
more diverse … If you’re going to do business, you need to
have representatives from different areas of the general population,”
she said, including both men and women.
“I think women measure success differently than men, though there
are a lot of similarities,” said Natalie Tindol, owner of Tindol
Ford in Gastonia. “It seems like in my case, my definition of success
is a lot more intangible than it is tangible.”
Success for her, she explained, is more about having “enough”
than “everything,” and being able to build relationships,
take care of the community and give back. This comes from her father,
who founded the business 40 years ago and taught her “if you take
care of your people, the numbers will come,” she said.
“I would agree that women have a little better tendency to build
relationships, and I feel like that’s been one of the reasons our
business has been successful. We’re a very relationship-oriented
business: our employees, our customers and our community,” Tindol said.
Long, of CaroMont, agrees that men and women bring different perspectives
to the job.
“Women tend to take a more collaborative approach and often focus
on talking through a topic or issue. Men, on the other hand, tend to be
more action-oriented. They are driving toward goals and completing tasks
in order to get to the next step,” she said. “In an effort
to encourage equality in the work place, we often try to pretend those
differences don’t exist.
“However, success requires that we understand and respect social
norms and cues that are inherently present, without placing value judgments
that one approach or perspective is better than the other. We do all professionals
a disservice by dismissing these differences. We should embrace them and
allow them to work in our favor.”
Skinner, at Gaston College, said she prefers a collaborative approach to
leadership that involves others in the decision-making process. She said
management styles were different when she began her career.
“Back in the early days, the style for male presidents was really
more top-down, more dictatorial. It was just a management style of that
era as well,” she said. “I think things have changed. I see
more men being collaborative as well. People like to be part of the team;
like to be part of the decision-making.”
For leaders to come …
The four women also offer this advice to other aspiring leaders.
“A good education is always a good foundation,” Sarn said.
Long said it is important to embrace the duty of your position and to value
“I firmly believe that you must serve your position instead of serving
yourself, and that people are most successful when they operate this way,” she said.
Skinner said all leaders must learn how to prioritize, multi-task and delegate.
“These jobs are really challenging. This is not really a job. It’s
a lifestyle. It has to be something you love to do. For me, it’s
a difference I can make in the students’ lives,” she said.
“Whether you’re a male or female, if you’re focused on
other people and meeting their wants or needs or desires, then I think
you’re going to have a measure of success,” Tindol said.
“I think that, just like anything else, women and men complement
each other in the business world and in relationships,” Tindol added.
“I think together the complement is the best way to go. We both
have different strengths and weaknesses. It’s good to balance each