What it takes to break the glass ceiling on campus

JulieWollman
Julie E. Wollman, president, Widener University

Julie E. Wollman knows how to break glass ceilings -- and the proof is at Widener University, where Wollman, the 10th president of the former all-male military school, is its first female leader. Before she started at the Chester-based college in January, Wollman led Edinboro University, where she was also the university's first female president.

Question: What's that been like?

Answer: Really, not relevant, in a way.  My response is that it doesn't matter. Either I can do the job or not and I'm judged on whether I can do a good job, regardless of my gender. 

Q: Are you treated differently?

A: Actually not and it's interesting because Widener has its military history, from when it was known as Pennsylvania Military College. We still have a lot of military alum from the time it was an all-male college. And no, I think everybody has been very respectful and wonderful to work with. 

Q: Has it come up at all, either here or at Edinboro?

A: I taught a gender and woman's study class on [a recent] Friday here [at Widener]. I was telling the students, I had met with a group, the American Association of University Women. They were women on the older side and they asked me to come be their speaker. I got there and I said, `I'm Julie Wollman.' The woman said, `You can't be the president. You are too small.' I said, `Well, I'm not a large man. That is true.' So actually, it was my size -- I wasn't large enough, didn't take up enough space.'

But, I said, `My brain is just as big.'

I had done the same thing at Edinboro and the students were asked to pose questions. When I did this at Edinboro, the very first question I was asked was, `What is your go-to outfit?' I said, `Would you ask a man that question? Would you ask a male president that question?' I think I silenced them. I don't think they thought about that.

Jane's comment: I can understand why the student's question struck a nerve with Julie Wollman, but I think she was too quick to dismiss the question. Perhaps the student wanted practical information. Executive men never need to worry about what to wear, since their go-to outfit is a suit, a shirt and tie. But women leaders don't have a go-to uniform, so their wardrobe decisions aren't as simple. Hindsight is always perfect, but it would have been nice if, in addition to commenting on the gender stereotype raised by the question, Wollman could have also provided practical information about how the way people dress influences other people's perceptions of them. After all, these are young people with little knowledge of the mores of the business or professional world.  

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Coming Thursday: Look in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com for an article on women on the corporate boards of public companies.

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