Women rising in school leadership positions is becoming
more of a reality than in years past. I believe this accomplishment
is attributed to women taking more control of their careers instead
of acting in a passive role waiting to be selected or appointed.
Many people have told me and continue to tell me that I am making
a difference.Well, that is a matter of opinion but I would like to
believe that I ammaking a difference. The question of some persons
might be, in what wayam I making a difference. Before I make a transition
to the history of myposition, let me share with you a little bit of
I am told that I am the fourth female director of athletics in
the historyof the State of Texas. Along with that, I am told that
I am the first blackfemale director of athletics in the State of
Texas. What follows is nottooting my own horn nor is it meant to
be delivered in a bragging manner.My intent is to reveal two thoughts.
I am a thirty-four year old educatorwho graduated from high school
at the age of sixteen and college at theage of nineteen. I was a
teacher and coach for five and one-half years beforemoving into
administration at the age of twenty-five. I reveal these factsto
you to emphasize two important points: success is a choice and the
skyis not the limit - you and I are.
As I reflect on the past twenty years and the road I have traveled
toreach my present destination, I often think about key persons
who have crossedmy path. Through their negativity or positivity,
all have made a significantimpact on many decisions that I have
made in my personal and professionallife. I shall never forget persons
telling my mom as I prepared to go tohigh school and college that
I would never make it in either place becauseI was too young. Thank
God my mom had the keen insight at each level toknow that I would
survive in spite of my age. I recall persons implyingthat I could
not survive as a young black female teacher in a predominantlyAnglo,
suburban school district. As recently as two years ago, when I submittedmy
resume for the position I now hold, I heard some people say I would
notget the position because of the traditional male dominance in
athletic directorpositions. I draw upon these experiences often
to remind myself to stayaway from people whom I have identified
as having "stinking thinking."Those past experiences speak
to me in a voice that says - flee from thosewho have buckets full
of pessimism in hand to dump all over my dreams, goals,and aspirations.
Instead, I surround myself with innumerable people whohave buckets
full of optimism. Those people are the ones who have goalssimilar
to mine and are headed in the same direction I am going.
Recently, I read a book that I highly recommend. Rick Pitino, authorof
Success Is A Choice, highlights ten steps one should take
towardsoverachieving in business and life. The steps, which include
several principles,are not steps for quitters or those looking for
the easy road to success.Instead they are for those who have a will
and a why for success. Oftenwomen executives find themselves having
to operate in pressure situations.In Pitino's book, he has a chapter
entitled, "Thrive on Pressure."Within this chapter he
speaks to a "stress versus pressure" concept.Mr Pitino
(1997) writes, " most people will tell you that there's goodpressure
and there's bad pressure, I don't believe that. If you use it toyour
advantage, it's good pressure. Let it control you and it becomes
badpressure, or stress" (p.166).
Women executives, in my opinion, face challenges daily that require
atremendous amount of persistence. There is a perception floating
aroundin our society that sets forth the idea that it takes women
longer to landthe higher paid positions than it does men. Furthermore,
there is the beliefthat women who acquire high-paying jobs have
done so through a company'sneed to meet a quota. I operate under
the notion that you do whatever ittakes to reach a level that you
wish to reach. If by chance you are awardeda job because of a quota,
affirmative action, or for other reasons, so what?I have had people
imply that I have acquired the position of athletic directorbecause
of various reasons - without entertaining the thought that perhapsI
am best qualified for the position. There goes that "stinking
thinking"again. Persistence in attaining a goal may require
years for some and afew short days for others. The important component
I have found in persistenceis developing a "never-give-up"
attitude. In Pitino's (1997) book,he addresses being ferociously
persistent by offering the following: "Aman is a hero, not
because he is braver than anyone else, but because heis brave for
ten minutes longer." I have truly come to know that thereis
a direct, positive correlation between persistence and success.
Sometimes, I am still awestruck when I consider the fact that,
for theposition I currently hold, a committee recommended me - the
only femaleapplicant for the position. Do not get me wrong. I am
not awestruck becauseI knew and still believe that I am the most
qualified, but I am still awestruckbecause I am glad to know that
a committee made a recommendation based onan interview and not any
predetermined ideas. What I am going around tothe back door to say
is this: You never know who is watching and listening.I believe
women executives have to be better at salesmanship than men. Wemust
sell ourselves and our ideas harder and stronger. To this day, I
amthankful the recommending committee listened to each applicant
express howhe or she would carry the school district above and beyond
in the area ofathletics.
There is something I must say about contentment and comfort. I
do notdiscredit anyone for feeling content in their position in
life. I do believewe should be content in what our Heavenly Father
has blessed us with, butI also believe He has provided us opportunities
for self-improvement. Ithas always been a personal challenge given
by me to myself to linger nolonger than five years in one position.
Thus far I have come close to meetingthat personal challenge - with
a little coaxing in some cases from others.There is also something
to be said about coming out of our comfort zones.My fourteen years
in education have been spent in this manner: five andone-half years
as a teacher and coach, five and one-half years as an assistantathletic
director, two years as an assistant principal, and one year asa
director of athletics.
I believe that every now and then someone comes into your life
to letyou know you are becoming a little too comfortable where you
are. That happenedto me in 1994. I was enjoying my position as an
assistant athletic director,hoping to become an athletic director
someday. I had made my wishes knownto several persons in our administration,
including our superintendent.It was he who encouraged me to seek
some building experience so that I couldmake myself more marketable
if and when a driector of athletics positionsurfaced. I want to
make it clear that he never promised me anything butadvised me to
seek postions at the building level. I had a decision to make.I
could heed his advice and seek building-level positions or I could
remainin my area of comfort as an assistant athletic director. I
sought a building-levelposition and was fortunate to recieve one.
I truly believe the experienceI gained as a high school assistant
principal was a key factor in my gettingthe position that I currently
hold. Without a doubt, I believe those twoyears of building experience
have enhanced my effectiveness as a centraloffice administrator.
Yes, I chose the risky option which was to seek building-levelexperience.
Sometimes what we want in the long run requires us to be a risk-takerin
the short run. As I stated earlier, my superintendent did not make
anypromises to me and I took a chance in leaving an area in which
I enjoyedand felt comfortable.
Women rising in school leadership positions is becoming more of
a realitythan in years past. I believe this accomplishment is attributed
to womentaking more control of their careers instead of acting in
a passive rolewaiting to be selected or appointed. Commanding control
of our careers bypromoting ourselves and making our wishes known
is the most important toolwe can use in attempting to rise to school
- You must have a "why." Determine for what reason you
want what you want. When that is determined, you will succeed
through a strategy of what it is you aspire to do.
- Flee from those persons who have "stinking thinking."
Pessimistic people will not help you get where you are trying
to go. They can , however, be a source for helping you develop
an "I can" attitude.
- Develop a "never-give-up" attitude. Remember to persevere
and be persistent. The end result is what you are seeking. From
start to finish, you may not experience pleasure or happiness,
but the final outcome makes struggles worthwhile.
- Take command of your destination. Do not allow someone other
than yourself to control the direction in which you would like
to go. Instead, get behind the driver's wheel. If you get lost,
it is up to you to find your way back through whatever means are
- Move out of your comfort zone. Many of us sometimes get too
comfortable where we are. Too much comfort stagnates our growth
and we can dry up and die.
- Have a game plan. Develop multiple offenses and defenses so
that when one offense or defense does not work, you can try another
one and another one until you accomplish your goal of winning.
- Pinto, R. (1997). Success is a choice. New York, NY:
Broadway Books. (A ten-step approach for preparing yourself for
the challenges you face. A book for those who are serious about
making dreams reality.)
- Willa L. Gipson is the Director of Athletics
for the Birdville Independent School District, Fort Worth, Texas.
Reprinted with permission, Funk, C., Pankake, A.,
Reese,M. (Eds.) (1998). Women as school executives: Realizing
the vision.Commerce, Texas: Texas A&M University-Commerce
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2, Number 2, Spring 1999