The Top 5 Leadership Lessons from Our 2015 Awardees

The AAUW National Convention isn’t just about gathering members together to connect with each other and renew their commitment to themselves and their branches while enjoying a mini vacation. It’s also about honoring the accomplishments and hearing the wisdom of women trailblazers. This year, the AAUW Eleanor Roosevelt Award, Achievement Award, and Alumnae Recognition Award were awarded to Juanita Johnson-Bailey, Maria Klawe, and Faith Ringgold, respectively. Each woman took her turn speaking to the crowd, and below are five key leadership takeaways.

1. “You can do the job.”

“I’m 84 and will continue to be a force in the art world, where women are underrepresented,” said Faith Ringgold, the 2015 Alumnae Recognition Award winner, during her acceptance speech. Ringgold devoted her life and career to gaining recognition for women, and she spoke of other realms still largely closed to women’s leadership — namely, politics and religion — and encouraged attendees to step up and use their strengths to blaze a different path and definition of leadership. Women know how to use words instead of violence to solve problems, and that’s the kind of leadership the world needs, she said.

2. “It’s so much harder to change the culture in a place that is already successful.”

When Achievement Award winner Maria Klawe left Princeton University to become president of Harvey Mudd College, her friends thought she was crazy. Instead she’s transformed the culture of the school so that it now graduates computer science classes that are 38 percent women, compared with the national average of 18 percent. Klawe says that she can do in a semester at Harvey Mudd what it would take eight semesters to do at Princeton.

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3. “The time you spend talking about someone else is five times more powerful than the time you spend talking about yourself.”

People discount what you’re saying when you talk about yourself, said Klawe. Don’t go through life thinking you’re the smartest person in the room, she warned. That mindset blinds you to the genius of those around you and limits your own advancement. That’s why it’s so important to create networks of others working to create change and leverage those efforts.

4. “Look beyond what exists when it does not serve you.”

University of Georgia Professor Juanita Johnson-Bailey has made her career challenging the preconceived notions of her students and the preexisting conditions of the world. The Eleanor Roosevelt Award winner encouraged attendees to challenge the status quo, to be aware of what’s happening not just to you but around you, and to take on the task of envisioning and creating a better future.

5. “Tell as many secrets as you can.”

“Everyone struggles,” said Johnson-Bailey. The difference is that some of us hide that struggle and pretend it doesn’t exist. Johnson-Bailey said she had to read Virginia Woolf over and over again before finally getting her, and she’s honest with her students about that. “I don’t want you to feel less than because you’re struggling,” she said. “Everyone struggles.”

Bonus: Watch Dr. Juanita Johnson-Bailey’s Inspiring
Acceptance Speech Now

By:    July 15, 2015