Navigating the Labyrinth

Emily Dalgleish ’22

From a young age, I have received a lot of support from my parents, teachers, coaches, and peers in becoming a leader. I am privileged in that I have not faced any grand obstacle that has prevented me from success. Instead, it is the smaller moments of prejudice that lead me to self-doubt and confusion. The feeling of being lost in my leadership has been a consistent experience in my development as a leader. For that reason, I believe that in their essay Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership, Eagly’s and Carli’s description of the challenges of leadership as a woman as a labyrinth rather than a glass ceiling, is very fitting.  

Moments in the labyrinth can seem small, but they arise frequently. When a man takes credit for my work, I question whether I deserve recognition. When someone does not like me, I question whether I am too strict to be warm. When someone does not respect my authority, I question whether I am too weak to be taken seriously. When preparing for an event, I question whether my hair will look professional enough. When I publicly speak, I am hyper-aware of the pitch of my voice. When meeting new people, I downplay my strengths and accomplishments to avoid seeming egotistical. I can get stuck, and don’t know where to turn next. I struggle to find a balance between my femininity and my authority, two traits which should not be dichotomous but often feel like they are. I fear that my ambition and confidence scares people away. As a leader, I have learned that I must take responsibility for my actions, but sometimes that means when I experience prejudice, I place the blame on myself

Eagly and Carli provide many suggestions for managers on how to make their labyrinths less difficult for women to navigate, but they don’t provide many suggestions for those of us in the labyrinth. So, I would like to share some of the lessons I have learned while lost in the labyrinth:  

  1. Find a mentor: If you know someone who has walked the same path before and gained perspective, they can provide guidance to you and understand the same barriers and dead-ends you have encountered.  
  2. Ask for help: Sometimes when you are at your most lost, you don’t want others to know. During those moments are when it is most important to call for help. Admitting you know when you are lost can help you find your way out faster, and it lets other people who are also lost know that they aren’t alone. 
  3. Bring some shears: Instead of turning around when you get stuck, you can cut down the barrier for yourself and for the people who come after. Make people aware when they are treating you unfairly, and you will make the environment better for other women in the future. 
  4. Study the labyrinth: If you want to find your way through, it can help to know what you are walking into before you start. Know that you will encounter barriers and know what those barriers look like, so you can know how to get around them or take them down.  
  5. Enjoy your confusion: It can be enjoyable to wander. You don’t have to know where you are going, and you can learn on the way. 

My greatest growth as a leader has come from the moments when I am not confident in what do or how to do it, but I act anyways. Learning to navigate barriers and confusion makes us better leaders, which is precisely why more women need to be in positions of power.