By: Patricia Burlaud
How many times do we say to ourselves that we need to meet more people? That our circle of influence needs to be strengthened? That our skills and talents have yet to be discovered? Our career requires us to network, and in today’s education landscape, we must be more active than ever. But networking requires time and planning. The good news is that when you are involved in the New York State ACE Women’s Network (NYS ACEWN) Executive Board, you can both network efficiently and grow your professional skills.
When I was approached in 2010 by our national liaison, Concetta Stewart—now provost and vice president of academic affairs at Mercy College (NY) —to lead the NYS ACEWN, I had no clue about what it actually entailed. The only thing I knew was the ACEWN’s core mission of helping women strive for senior positions in higher education, and ultimately, for presidencies. So I asked myself how I would build a renewed State Executive Board with a strategic and measurable approach, where board members could learn from each other and grow their skills. I learned that if you are strategic and view the ACE Women’s Network through an opportunity lens, it can serve as a powerful professional development experience.
After reviewing and amending the bylaws, we decided to appoint to each officer seat on the board a higher education professional whose skills matched this appointment as closely as possible: for instance, a chief financial officer (CFO) or controller as treasurer, an IT/teaching and learning director as information officer, and a communication and marketing person as communication officer. Also, to make this big state manageable, six regions were created, each led by a regional coordinator (RC). Each RC also brought a unique set of skills from areas such as academic affairs, student affairs, advancement, and diversity and multicultural affairs. At the end of the day, the board’s structure mirrored that of a presidential cabinet, composed of experienced and knowledgeable women from the many fields that make up a modern higher education institution.
This is the model we have kept since 2010. In a protected space, each board member can test her ideas, build scenarios, hone her ability to communicate with others, get acquainted with budget processes under an actual CFO or controller’s guidance, learn what it takes to make high-level decisions, and improve her executive presence. This professional development is intentional, formative, and purposeful: to equip members with the toolbox needed to move to the next level, in a safe environment where mistakes are opportunities to grow, and where they can bring their own expertise to share with their peers.
Networking is generally a full-time job and not an easy one: It requires an active approach. As such, the NYS ACEWN Executive Board provides a networking experience that is an engaging, meaningful, exciting, and rewarding approach to advancement. This experience indeed translates into a powerful professional development exercise that fosters effective peer-learning, engagement, and readiness for all types of dialogues, application of new knowledge to real-life situations—including nontraditional ones—and progressive accountability in defining outcomes and desired results. Furthermore, this experience on the board also significantly helps boost each member’s executive presence, making her realize that it is not about exercising power and influence, but rather about making others feel her powerful presence in a safe environment.
I mentioned at the beginning of this article that our approach to building our State Executive Board was not only strategic but also measurable. What better measure could be thought of than the number of our board members appointed to higher-level or broadened positions during their mandate? In just four years, we could proudly celebrate the appointments of two presidents: Sue Henderson of New Jersey City University and Sharon DeVivo of Vaughn College (NY); one associate provost, Peggy Burke of St. Bonaventure University (NY); one CFO, Jeanne Plecenik, now at Saint Leo University (FL); two assistant vice presidents, Kristen Ford of Cornell University (NY) and Sue Maxam of Pace University (NY); and one dean, Satasha Green, now at Chicago State University. Doesn’t serving on the board provide a high rate of return on the investment of members’ time and talents? This is indeed what our current board, now led by Judith Tabron, director of faculty and student computing services at Hofstra University (NY), believes. The board’s members include three academic deans, one chief diversity officer, one human resources senior specialist, and six directors—all ready to move ahead!