This page focuses on the course WGS.S10 Gender, Power, Leadership and the Workplace as it was taught by Dr. Mindy Fried in Spring 2014.
This course provided students with an analytic framework to understand the roles that gender, race, and class play in defining and determining access to leadership and power in the US, especially in the context of the workplace. We explored women and men in leadership positions within the corporate, political and non-profit sectors, with attention to the roles of women of color and immigrant women within this context. We also looked at specific policies such as affirmative action, parental leave, child-care policy, and working- time policies and the role they play – or could play – in achieving parity. The class further investigated ways in which these policies address gender, racial, and class inequities, and think critically about mechanisms for change.
Course Goals for Students
- To provide students with an analytic framework to understand the roles that gender, race, and class play in defining and determining access to leadership and power in the US, especially in the context of the workplace.
- To increase student knowledge about historical and contemporary efforts — and more broadly, social movements — aimed at challenging societal inequities by class, gender, race/ethnicity that are woven into societal norms and practice and manifest in the workplace.
- To provide students with increased confidence in their ability to navigate the workplace, taking into account how gender and race/ethnicity biases affect workplace culture as well as frame the opportunity structure within the workplace.
- Students have a greater understanding of how gender, race, and class define and determine access to leadership and power in the US, especially in the context of the workplace.
- Students understand past and current change-making efforts that then manifest in the context of the workplace.
- Students have more confidence in their ability to navigate gender/race/class dynamics as they manifest in the workplace.
Below, Dr. Fried describes various aspects of how she taught WGS.S10 Gender, Power, Leadership, and the Workplace.
This course was highly interactive and provided opportunities for students to be leaders in the class from the very start. For example, in the first couple of weeks when we focused on gender theories, I had students do a play reading, all taking on a different part, and then we used gender theories to analyze the story line and the characters. This helped to break down barriers and provided a surprisingly safe way for them to find their voices in class. This led to students taking charge of some portion of the class, in presenting an article or two during the class, as well as facilitating the ensuing class conversation. Each student did this twice throughout the semester. I played a very hands-on role in helping students prepare for these presentations; sometimes I also co-presented with them, which required that we coordinate our presentations and the class discussion. After every presentation, we had a de-brief discussion, so that they could talk about how they felt about their presentation, including where they felt it was successful and areas for growth. And then I shared my verbal feedback on the presentation/delivery and facilitation of discussion, which I followed up with my detailed written feedback. I also provided detailed feedback on all student papers/projects.
Challenges of Teaching the Material
Students came into this class with a very limited notion of how women can be leaders in the context of the workplace, based narrowly on the corporate model presented by Sheryl Sandberg in her book, Lean In. When we began to look at different leadership styles/approaches, I encouraged students to be critical thinkers and exposed them to different approaches to leadership, including leadership that is aimed at empowering others. Over the semester, students developed a deeper understanding of broader societal inequities and how they manifest in the workplace, requiring changes in both workplace and social policy. Their views about leadership became more fluid.
Also, given that students presented a range of “talkativeness”, and this was a class that required dialogue, I asked students — in an initial survey form — how they viewed themselves along a spectrum (e.g., very talkative to very quiet). I also asked them what helped them to be more talkative in class. This information provided me with a baseline of understanding about how they viewed themselves. But I didn’t adjust my expectations based on this information. Instead, I provided opportunities for everyone to speak and be heard. I employed various methods to create a “safe” environment where people of all backgrounds and with all opinions could articulate their thoughts and beliefs. Sometimes I had students break into “dyads” to discuss a particular question, which helped them discover their own thinking and develop listening skills, both of which are very important. They then came back to the full-class discussion ready to share their thinking, and feeling more confident about doing so. In addition to theater, I employed the visual arts on a very simple scale, to articulate their ideas and opinions.
Finally, it was a challenge to find the balance between the amount of reading I wanted students to do, and they amount they WOULD do. I have been known to speak with students about the workload, to get their feedback on what they feel is reasonable. Within the class, students had different opinions about the volume of reading, and that included those who agree with me. It helped to have students say that we needed to do the reading.
WGS.S10 is offered every spring semester. It is a special topics course, and the subject matter changes each year.
The students' grades were based on the following activities:
Instructor Insights on Assessment
Students were assessed based on class attendance and participation, student class presentations, and two papers, a mid-term and a final. Students also had to write four “reaction papers” to the material (ungraded but required), two of which they submitted to their fellow student who was doing a class presentation, to support their efforts. The instructor allowed students to interpret their final “paper” very loosely and encourage creativity, as evidenced by Noa Ghersin’s project on this site.
- In Spring 2014, the students were all women.
- This was the first year the course was taught.
- The instructor predicts that the numbers will increase appreciably the next time the course is taught.
Breakdown by Year
57% seniors, 29% juniors, 14% post-doctoral
Breakdown by Major
- Most students were majoring in science, technology, engineering or mathematics
- One student from the Philosophy department
- One student from the Sloan School of Management
Typical Student Background
Most students had taken at least one course in Gender and Women’s Studies.
During an average week, students were expected to spend 6.5 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:
Met 2 times per week for 1 hour and 15 minutes per session, 26 sessions total
Out of Class
Outside of class, students were expected to complete readings and assignments.