NIC offers programs for women correctional executives.
When the National Institute of Corrections began its Executive Leadership for Women program in 1994, few women were reaching top positions in the corrections field.
Women entered the supervisory ranks in slow progression, in small numbers, and with few peers and mentors. The correctional culture, with its often autocratic, controlling style of management was contributing, aware or not, to the problem. Literature suggests that women are socialized to be less challenging and more sensitive and nurturing. In her book Talking 9 to 5, Deborah Tannen examines the communication style differences between men and women. She found that when girls who were trying to get results had their polite conversation ignored, they became more controlling and domineering--like the boys.(1) While female leadership styles may serve the purpose at hand, they are often different than male's, and may not be as accepted. In order to survive and fit in, women in corrections have been known to mimic or model the leadership styles and behaviors of men in positions to which they aspire.
For several women leaders I spoke with, building body muscles, donning short hair cuts and speaking in a gruff tone, was their way of blending in and becoming "one of the boys." While power and strength are valuable assets, the problem with this attempt at assimilation is the lost opportunity to integrate valuable characteristics and leadership styles of women (e.g., multitasking, inclusion and collaboration).
It is important for women to be represented at the decision-making table. Their influence provides important diversity in thinking, managing and leading, as explained by Barnard College President Debora Spar in a Jan. 4, Washington Post article entitled "One Gender's Crash." She explores the absence of women leaders in positions associated with Wall Street's recent financial fiasco, speculating on the biological differences that may prevent women from the aggressive, risky behavior men so often exhibit. "We need women in leadership positions not only because they manage as well as men but because they manage differently than men; because they tend--over time and in aggregate--to make different kinds of decisions and to accept and avoid different kinds of risks. We need women who will say no to bad decisions based on male dominated rivalries ..."(2)
Bringing the cautious and the not so cautious minds together makes for rich, explorative critical thinking with opportunities to view an issue from more than one perspective.
According to Albert Einstein, "Problems cannot be solved with the same level of thinking which created them." Missing and necessary, was a national women's leadership program to challenge the societal perceptions, address the barriers women face in leadership roles, and to recognize the benefits of a work setting that engages different leadership styles and methodologies. As one researcher summarized, female-specific leadership development programs help women by fostering greater intellectual and emotional development, positive role modeling, and the establishment of women's special strengths as their own before they are communicated to men.
NIC began an executive women's leadership program to enhance the ability of women in upper-level management positions to achieve and function effectively in executive-level positions. With a research-based approach, the design works on the individual leader via a developmental model to promote learning for personal mastery and increased self-knowledge; address the personal obstacles to their success with strategies to overcome; identify and strengthen the necessary work competencies; and develop professional relationships.
The Program Structure
As a result of the feedback from executive participants and continued dialogue with the field, there are now two women-only program offerings: Executive Leadership for Women and Correctional Leadership for Women. With distinct variations to address the levels of competencies and experiences of the executive, senior and mid-manager levels, both programs are organized around the individual development model. Women leaders in the Executive program must be functioning at the decision-making level of a warden/superintendent or above. Women leaders in the Correctional Leadership program are typically in the ranks of jail lieutenant, captain, unit manager and field supervisor.
For both programs, teaching modules are accompanied by a practical application of the lesson. Multiple opportunities for personal discovery through the development of team skills and leadership roles are created. The course with a structured agenda embodies both the serious and the light-hearted--all intended to bring each participant to a better understanding of herself and her role as leader.
The opportunity for building supportive relationships and future networks begins on day one and builds from there. Participants have meals as a group, during which they discuss lessons learned and reflect back on personal and professional challenges.
The program locations have varied from the state parks of South Dakota and Indiana, to the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Ozarks of Arkansas. The setting is a critical element of the program. Location and physical space contribute to disassociation from the work place and allow for personal and professional introspection. When participants are open to new perspectives on themselves and the roles they play in their organizations, the week proves to be a rich experience. Most important is the creation of a safe environment in which those women who choose to, can feel free to express themselves, share the experiences they face in leadership positions, and gain support from their colleagues.
It has been said that leadership begins from within. To promote self-awareness, each woman receives individualized one-on-one assessment feedback with a trained facilitator. This assessment is based on not only how the leader sees herself, but how others perceive her ability and style. This private conversation tends to be revealing and suggests tactics the leader can employ to be more effective.
As the week unfolds, many modules and assessment instruments are presented, with learning tasks and activities structured to emphasize females' unique leadership style. Participants are given a journal to explore and free associate their thoughts on the relationship between their leadership style and work culture and to identify how one influences the other and where change in one might lead to change in the other.
If Not NIC, Who?
By 2012, The U.S. Department of Labor projects that women will comprise 47.5 percent of the work force, with an expected growth of 14.3 percent, compared to that of 10 percent for men. With the number of women increasing in the leadership ranks, organizations need talented, trained individuals to provide consistent operations, to meet their future leadership needs, and mentor others in the organization. Leadership programs must assist the corrections field in meeting the work force challenges. Currently, there are only a few states with any specific career and leadership development programs that address the unique challenges of being a woman in a correctional leadership role environment.
States are expected to continue facing chronic budget gaps, with training as a low priority. Yet, in a recent study conducted by NIC, correctional administrators identified both succession planning and development of correctional work force leaders, as critical to the field.
NIC continues to respond to the changing correctional culture and work force, keeping the spotlight on an area that truly needs attention: helping correctional agencies prepare the next generation of leaders and bridging the gender gap in leadership.
(1) Tannen, D. 1994. Talking 9 to 5: How women's and men's conversation styles affect who gets heard, who gets credit and what gets done at work. New York: W. Morrow and Co.
(2) Spar, D. 2009. One gender's crash. Washington Post. 4 Jan, B07.
Evelyn Bush is correctional program specialist for the National Institute of Corrections' Prisons Division.