The Memo Every Woman Keeps On Her Desk

Grace Torrance ’21
Women and Leadership Participant

The Memo Every Woman Keeps in Her Deskpresents a workplace dilemma on how to initiate change in an environment not conducive to complete equality and inclusion relating to gender. Moreover, it challenges the roots that initiate these sentiments and weighs the consequences of bringing these to light. It relates the general decision to speak up when suffering from gender-based offenses to whether or not the audience is ready to receive and modify the actions of society. The basis of the article is a woman, working a well-respected job for 10 years at her company, who writes a memo pointing at the disturbing pattern of sexism present within the company.  She faces the dilemma of sending her memo to the CEO. Either the CEO accepts her criticisms and applies them to transform the company, or he dismisses her writing and effectively ruins her chances of advancing further within the company. Even though she feels it is critical that someone at the top knows the true dynamics of the work environment, the opportunity cost of sending it could have major consequences. The reaction of one of her friends who she attempts to confide in over whether or not to send the memo, who is a male colleague, demonstrates a further lack of clarity on this decision. One important point, as made clear later on in the article, is that the colleague fails to question whether he should cosign or offer to support the memo in an act of solitude. Coupled with an array of other professional opinions, most of them center around two ideas. One is that she should send the memo right now in order to shed light on the issue immediately, no matter the consequences. The other is that she should revise the memo and include more concrete evidence and background in order to gain support from others and have the capacity to incite the necessary change. 

There comes a time, however, that the pressures of the effects become so unbearable that something has to be done to spark the change.

Even though this narrative was written in 1993, it remains as relevant as ever in the current climate of today’s society. Similar dilemmas as to when, how, and where to point out faults in the environment that are detrimental to the inclusion and equal acceptance of women, just as with any other identifying factor such as race or sexual orientation, are potent and current predicaments. The entire rise of the #metoo movement came as a result of women making the leap to have their story of sexual assault to become public. Each and every person who said, is saying, and will say those words, faces the construct of the benefits and consequences of this language. The differing opinions make it apparent that there is no clear answer as to which atmosphere, if any, one should come out to say they have been sexually assaulted. There comes a time, however, that the pressures of the effects become so unbearable that something has to be done to spark the change.

In the company in the memo, the atmosphere is one that “slowly erodes a woman’s sense of self-worth and place.” Similar sentiments were felt that sparked the #metoo movement. With the objective of creating a warm and inclusive environment to all, there must be dramatic change stemming from the very top in order to actually make a difference. However, an important aspect of this is a collective effort; simply attacking it from the top leadership will not have an impact on the whole. There needs to be a collective effort and dedication to mediating the issue in order to effectively and completely combat it. 

A Women and Leadership Reflection on Rachel Carson

Olivia Chatowski

As an Environmental Studies and Biology double major, I was thrilled to see Rachel Carson’s mini-bio amongst the rest of the female leader bios. After hearing about Carson’s legacy in my classes and reading pieces from her work I have always admired her. I am especially impressed with the impact she had on society for making complex environmental theories or ideas very accessible to the public to share the urgency and necessity of taking care of the environment. 

I have heard about Carson’s work, but I did not know all that much about her life and where she came from. Now that I do, I only admire her more. She was tutored by her mother who followed the nature study movement in which the child receives direct experience with nature in order to appreciate the environment scientifically and aesthetically. This is a really cool way of looking at nature which more people should consider, as nature is certainly not as appreciated as it should be. 

In school, Carson was drawn to the sciences as well as writing and majored biology and English, and went on to graduate school for zoology, despite the belief that women were not smart or fit enough to hold jobs in science. Carson was also attending school during the Great Depression, working several jobs, and supporting four other family members, highlighting her drive and love for science. Though she did have to drop out, she was still able to pursue a career as a writer in the US Bureau of Fisheries (US Fish and Wildlife Service), moving up in the ranks, and then eventually writing several very successful and impactful books. 

Rachel Carson, as the article points out was not a traditional leader, in the sense that she didn’t lead a protest or control a large group of people, but she did have an enormous impact on society, creating a movement of environmental awareness. She led within the group, as well as outside of it, calling out the large corrupt agriculture business lobbies and government bureaucracies. She was an advocate for nature rather than someone looking to exploit it.

While I was reading, I was truly inspired by Carson’s drive and commitment to her passion. Seeing another female not only succeed against the odds and leave a huge impact on society, and in a career that is similar to the one I wish to pursue. 

Sandra Day O’Connor: A Woman Who Rose to the Top

Abigail Hauer ’20

On our Women and Leadership trip to Washington DC over spring break, we visited the United States Supreme Court.  After having a private tour of the Court, including a tour of the actual Courtroom, the women of our group stopped at the temporary exhibit about the first female Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor.

Sandra Day O’Connor, born to ranchers in El Paso, Texas in 1930, graduated high school at age 16. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Economics at Stanford University and her Juris Doctorate at Stanford Law School in only two years, graduating third in her class.  O’Connor served in several legislative and judicial roles before she was appointed to the Supreme Court.  She was the Assistant Attorney General of Arizona, a State Senator for Arizona, and the first female Majority Leader of anystate.  O’Connor served as Superior Court Judge and Judge of the Arizona Court of Appeals before President Ronald Reagan formally nominated her to the vacant Supreme Court seat in August 1981.

While serving on the Court for 25 years, O’Connor was seen as the true moderate or “swing” vote. O’Connor voted in many prominent cases, such as Bush v. Goreto end the recount in Florida that ultimately led to George W Bush becoming President, but one of O’Connor’s most momentous cases was Aurelia Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, ruling that school boards can be held responsible under Title IX for “student-on-student” harassment. The case, regarding sexual harassment against fifth grader LaShonda Davis, found that the Monroe County Board of Education was deliberately indifferent as it ignored several complaints by LaShonda Davis’ mother about serious and systematic harassment.  The majority ruling, written by O’Connor, strengthened Title IX and its legitimacy for those suffering from sexual harassment.  O’Connor was recognized for her time and leadership on the Court when President Barack Obama presented her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

Sandra Day O’Connor’s journey to being appointed the first female Supreme Court Justice was that of a journey through a labyrinth.  She rose to every challenge and exceeded it, graduating high school and law school early and being ranked third in her law school class.  Not only did she break the glass ceiling when she entered the male dominated Courtroom and stood for what she believed in, she broke a glass ceiling earlier in her career when she was appointed the first female Majority Leader for any State Senate.

I vividly remember the first time I learned about O’Connor.  I was a junior in high school taking AP US History, and one of my teacher’s last lectures was on female leaders we learned about throughout the course. Many prominent names were discussed: Abigail Adams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, Alice Paul, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Sarah Palin to name a handful.  But the one who stuck out to me was Sandra Day O’Conner. Why?  Because she was the first female to rise to the highest position in one of the three branches of federal government.  Two of the three branches of American government have had female leaders, and it is time that the executive has one, too.

O’Conner continues to be an inspirational figure to me because of how she came to be such a successful female leader.  She “pulled herself up from her boot straps” as she worked for everything she accomplished—nothing was handed to her.  Shegraduated high school at 16.  Shegraduated law school in two years.  Shegraduated third in her law school class.  Shebecame the first female Majority Leader in any State Senate.  Shewas appointed the first female Supreme Court Justice.  Sheearned everything.

As a woman who hopes to be as successful as Sandra Day O’Connor, she continually inspires me to work hard and earn everything on my own merit.  She inspires me to enter the labyrinth of male-dominated fields and to break every glass ceiling that women face.  She inspires me to be a female leader no matter what I do in life.