Northwestern’s history of powerful women might date back to the days of Frances Willard’s leadership with the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, but according to Weinberg senior Hayley Furmaniuk, there is still a lot of work to be done for women’s equality on both the campus and national level. Furmaniuk is the executive director of Women in Leadership, an organization that aims to foster a community of women leaders at Northwestern.
This week, Women in Leadership is co-hosting Women’s Empowerment Week with Northwestern’s Panhellenic Association. The week’s events include networking workshops, a breast cancer awareness program and an art night with Lipstick Theatre.
What are the goals of Women in Leadership this year as a new organization?
Women in Leadership existed a while ago, and it kind of petered out. Last year, a couple of seniors who were very involved with the Women’s Center, Center for Student Involvement and ASG decided that they thought now would be a good time to bring back Women in Leadership. In American society, women’s rights and feminism has become much more prevalent in the past couple of years. That has been reflected in the Northwestern community as it has in many college communities.
Our general mission is to help support the women of Northwestern to achieve their best abilities in being leaders on campus, giving them the tools to be the best leaders they can be.
We are mostly focused on gender and leadership, but we want to talk about as many topics under that umbrella. We don’t want it to be focused on just be a certain section of women, we want to be as inclusive as possible.
Are women underrepresented in campus student groups?
Yes. From talking to a lot of my friends and women who have been involved on campus, it’s much harder to handle a leadership position as a woman. There’s a lot more to think about and take into account when you’re trying to be in a position where you typically need to be more assertive. So, it’s a lot of the small things that you see in general society that are also represented on Northwestern’s campus – women in American society today face a lot more stigma as leaders.
This is an idea that Sheryl Sandberg talks a lot about in Lean In – women will enter fields where they feel underrepresented but then they won’t go for leadership positions because they don’t believe they have the ability to fully do a good job. When a man is going for a certain position, if he has four out of the 20 qualifications, he’s going to apply for the position whereas a woman is going to feel that she needs to check all 20 of those boxes. So at Northwestern, it’s not always boxes you have to check, but you might think you’re not able to fulfill the position in the way you actually can.
How are the events from Women’s Empowerment Week addressing some of those problems?
Our goal for the week is to help give women the tools that they need so they feel like they are better prepared for those leadership positions, and to give them assurance that even if they’re not prepared, they can have confidence even if they don’t check 100 percent of those boxes.
Is Women in Leadership and its programming mostly career-oriented?
I think right now it is, since we’re starting out and we’re finding our niche. What we’re looking at is promoting leadership in all aspects of life. In the winter we’re looking to launch a Sustained Dialogue-type of conversation about women’s issues and women’s leadership at Northwestern. We’re looking at doing a mentoring workshop in the winter. It’ll be a pilot program with about 15 women, and we’ll teach them the tools to find their own mentors in everyday life. It’s easy to see this through the lens of a career, but you can find a mentor in your life that isn’t for a job. You can have a mentor for – I hate this term, but for lack of a better phrase, work-life balance.
Why is this issue something that you care about?
I’m very passionate about gender equality because women are underrepresented in American society. If you look at Congress, we’re not even close to 50 percent. If you look at the Supreme Court, we’re not close to 50 percent. Obviously there’s a reason for that. Women leaders are viewed in a very different light than male leaders. American society isn’t used to seeing women leaders.
The biggest misconception I think people face, not just at Northwestern, but women leaders have a hard time toeing the line between being assertive or bossy and overly-friendly. It’s hard because women are naturally viewed as being more nurturing and motherly – when they’re in leadership, that’s the schema they’ve been put it. So when women are more assertive, there’s a negative connotation.
That’s something I’ve faced personally and I’ve heard it from a lot of other women.