Downsizing Expands Career Opportunities for WomenIt's important to have a trusting relationship with your supervisor before taking on additional duties.
College budgets are getting slashed in the Great Recession. Georgia reduced its higher education budget by 7% while raising university tuition 16%. Colorado cut $62 million from higher education in 2010 alone. Community colleges in Washington took a 40% cut in state revenues.
Payroll costs in 44 states are being decreased through layoffs, furloughs, reduced teaching loads and incentives for early retirement. Unemployment, self-employment or retirement awaits many who are forced out, while the survivors take on heavier loads to make up for the net loss in personnel.
For women who are flexible, energetic and creative, downsizing carries a silver lining. Some have welcomed the opportunity to upsize their professional portfolios.
Amy Goings, VP for operations and college relations at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood WA, is a first-generation college student with a BA from Mills College CA and a master of public administration degree from Evergreen State College WA. She is working on a doctorate at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, where she spoke at the 25th annual Women in Educational Leadership Conference in October 2011.
In spring 2008 she was Clover Park’s VP for advancement. After the economy tanked and two of her colleagues retired, she offered to take on the additional responsibilities that comprise her present position. Under “operations” she now also handles facilities, information technology, capital planning and enterprise services, while her “college relations” responsibilities include marketing, government and community relations.
Along with this increase in her portfolio, her college nominated her to participate in the selective Washington Executive Leadership Academy (WELA) class of 2009. For her, the budget cuts created an opportunity for growth. She wondered if other women leaders had similar experiences.
Five campus leaders who upsized
Curious and optimistic, Goings interviewed five other women who were community college leaders in Washington state to learn how they were managing the effects of the recession.
All five had held conventional administrative positions in May 2008, before the economic downturn. When reduced budgets led to reorganizations, vacancies and retirements, all five found opportunities for career growth as a result.
Some rose on a career ladder; several combined sets of responsibilities that were not traditionally under one umbrella. One came out of retirement. Their stories support her intuitive belief that during these challenging times, women’s networking and resourcefulness work in women’s favor.
Erin Brown serves the system at the state level as administrator and legislative coordinator for the Washington State Trustees Association of Community and Technical Colleges (TACTC). She’s also on the WELA board of directors. Her TACTC responsibilities include planning, financial oversight, support for the board, coordinating communications and organizing three conferences and two new trustee orientations a year.
In May 2008 she was with the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, shifting from student services support to legislative liaison. Economic pressure created the vacancy at TACTC, for which she vied successfully with external candidates. She said her new job has given her an entirely new skill set.
Christina Castorena is dean of student development and diversity advocacy at Everett Community College, where she has worked since 1998. Three years ago she was the associate dean for diversity, managing the school’s diversity and equity center and coordinating school-wide initiatives.
She rose by taking the calculated risk of negotiating a trial period. As high turnover rocked her campus and VP positions were being restructured, she volunteered to take on additional responsibilities in an interim role. Her president was impressed enough to agree, send her to WELA (in the same class as Goings) and finally appoint her to the permanent position as dean.
Vickie Lackman became VP of human resources at Bates Technical College in Tacoma in 2006. She did standard HR duties such as recruitment, training, tenure, pay, benefits and labor negotiations.
Her position expanded two years ago when the campus safety director position was cut for budgetary reasons and its responsibilities assigned to her. In addition to the HR staff, six campus safety officers now report to her. Her lack of experience in security management made it a calculated risk with a steep learning curve. She told Goings that it’s important to take risks to increase your visibility, even though it can be uncomfortable.
Nancy McKinney, VP for administrative services at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia since 2004, faced a similar expansion of duties when her college was downsizing. When the VP for extended learning retired, she asked to add that position to her own and the president agreed.
She’s now VP for administrative services and extended learning, with responsibility for the college’s satellite campus in Lacey WA. Managing two campuses instead of one, she has learned to delegate more. Her advice: “Be willing to be patient with yourself. You will be uncomfortable for a while.”
Dr. Laura Saunders came out of retirement this year to serve as interim president of Bellevue College. Before retiring in 2009 she was Bellevue’s VP for administrative services, responsible for the physical plant, institutional research and capital and fiscal planning.
In retirement she stayed active and kept in contact with her former associates. The initiative to call her back came from the trustees, and she negotiated her interim position directly with them.
In a time of upheaval, they considered it an advantage that the administration and faculty already knew her. She emphasized the importance of continuing to build technical skills even in retirement and using them in teamwork with others, and networking while you learn.
Burden or opportunity?
Because of personnel changes related to the recession, all five carry heavier portfolios today than before the economy crashed. Their duties have doubled or tripled; they never feel really caught up.
Yet all five are excited by their professional growth. Learning new skills and overcoming new challenges has re-invigorated careers that had started to feel stale for some. Learning more about other parts of the college was another benefit.
“They felt they were absolutely helping their institutions,” Goings said. In response to a participant asking whether the women received salary boosts for their significant increases in responsibilities, she noted that none of the women mentioned getting more money; the issue did not arise in her interviews. Nor did any say they aspired to be presidents, although Goings herself does want to be a president someday.
Strategies for success
They shared strategies to help other women grow their professional roles when their colleges cut back:
• Be open to change. Change is a constant. Although digging in heels is a common response, change creates spaces for innovation if you stay flexible and creative.
• Take calculated risks. Better to stick your neck out than hide it in the sand. “You are obviously smart or you wouldn’t be where you are, so don’t be timid,” Lackman advised.
• Don’t be too hard on yourself. New duties bring growing pains. At times you will need to apologize and ask forgiveness. Learn from your mistakes but don’t beat yourself up over them.
• Focus. Select two or three top priorities in your new role. Decide where you hope to take the school in this role and focus your energy there.
• Learn how to let go. You can’t work three times as many hours if you’re already working fulltime. Delegate, don’t micromanage; let your staff do their jobs.
• Schedule time out. Castorena’s VP told her to block off an hour each morning for desk time and an hour for lunch, away from meetings. Parts of your life may need to slide during transition, but do schedule vacations and personal time.
• Nurture relationships. It’s important to have a trusting relationship with your supervisor before taking on additional duties. New roles bring new colleagues; learn their language and build trust with them. Network continually and keep lines of communication open.
“Innovation takes risk, leadership and accountability,” Goings said. The Great Recession has been hard on higher education in many ways, but for these leaders it has served as a catalyst for innovative professional growth.
Resourceful and strong in relationship skills, women are well positioned to take advantage of today’s opportunities.
To contact Amy Goings:
Cook, Sarah Gibbard. (2011, December). Downsizing Expands Career Opportunities for Women. Women in Higher Education, 20(12), p. 1-2.