Posted November 15, 2010 by Zack Wahlquist 

A Man's Perspective on the Women's Leadership Institute

I have had the privilege of managing the Women’s Leadership Institute since its inception in 2006. Over the last five years, I have watched this program quadruple in size, thanks to content leaders who are passionate about their fields and excited participants who want to take away all they can. It truly is an unparalleled program.

I’ve been asked many times what it is like to be only man in attendance at the Women’s Leadership Institute, so I thought I would share some thoughts. Let me first be clear: it’s not like I’m the only man in sight. There are plenty of staff members at the properties that we work with who are male. Additionally, most years at least one participant brings her spouse to enjoy the setting while she is attending the program. So for those of you worried that my masculinity might be compromised by being in this environment, rest assured that I am in no danger!

That being said, it is truly my honor to manage this event, my favorite among those I’ve worked with during my tenure at ACUI. Here’s why:

  • There is a feeling of some intensity from every participant—they crave this type of experience and are so glad that we have put this together for them. I leave the event every year knowing that we’ve helped a lot of people make excellent use of their professional development dollars and that they will return to campus a better individual and professional because of the experience.
  • The faculty in residence are truly world-class and give of their time and expertise (often at a much reduced expense than they might normally charge) because they believe in the purpose and the learning outcomes of this unique program.
  • Our partner associations, especially our friends at NACUBO and ACRL who pushed ACUI to continue down this road, have really made this experience possible to continue. It is truly one-of-a-kind to have the perspectives of 19 higher education associations represented, in content and in participation, at one event. The depth and breadth of conversations at the Women’s Leadership Institute is like nothing else I have experienced.

I will admit when this assignment started for me, there was some trepidation about being at the program on my part. We set off to create a space for women to learn together, and I did not want the presence of my Y chromosome to interfere with the sense of community being developed. Yes, I was a little uncomfortable when my boss burned her bra in a teaching moment during the program’s first year. And yes, there are times when participants arrive on site, see me at the registration desk, and do a double take to make certain they are in the right place. But over the years, I have been welcomed by each cohort of women and felt valued and part of the team. Some years I even feel like one of the girls!

If you have ever thought about attending this program, you will not regret it. If you have ever thought about sending someone you believe in, your investment will be returned over and over.

Zack Wahlquist

Zack Wahlquist is the Director of Education at ACUI.

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