Thoughts on Female Leaders

Barbara and I belong to a book club that reads books related to business topics. A few years ago we started setting aside our March meeting to discuss a book about a woman – first ladies, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Adams, and Betty Ford or business leaders such as Coco Chanel, to name a few – in honor of Woman’s History Month. This year we discussed Katharine Graham and her leadership journey and challenges starting with taking over as president of the Washington Post following her husband’s suicide, taking the company from privately held to a public corporation, and her decisions around the Pentagon Papers, Watergate and the pressman’s strike.

How fitting that on March 2, 2014, the Washington Post ran an article about women at the helm of top museums in Washington DC. Here are some thoughts on female leaders from these women who are museum directors.

1. I do think women have a different management style than men. They tend to be calmer and know how to balance many things, and in my experience, they have a better sense of humor on things. Peggy Loar, Corcoran Gallery of Art interim director.

2. I was thinking back to when I first started [in 1994]. I was one of the first female (museum) directors, but I never thought about it one way or another. I was excited to build the museum, but there was no doubt that there was a good-old-boys network at the time. Judy A. Greenberg, Kreeger Museum director (on being one of the first female directors in Washington).

3. We can all make generalizations about men and women, but the qualities of a great leader are the qualities of a great leader, and no leader is perfect. I can't see gender being a determining factor in anyone's leadership success. Sara Bloomfield, U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum director.

4. When I started out, I didn't think a whole lot about [gender], but one thing that's always been true is that the audience skews toward women. It's a natural thing then that you'd have more women in leadership positions. Kate Markert, Hillwood Museum director.

5. If you look at Smithsonian leadership ... it's still very male dominated. Having said that, I'm eternally grateful to the Smithsonian for looking past gender ... But if we could get more women on boards, it would make a difference. Kim Sajet, National Portrait Gallery director.

6. I'm kind of pro-soul. I've always felt like I'm a human being first. Rebecca Alban Hoffeberger, American Visionary Art Museum founder and director.

7. The whole notion of creating teams and bringing your team together, is that because I'm a woman and women work in teams traditionally, or because we as a society realize that teamwork produces stronger results? Julia Marciari-Alexander, Walters Art Museum, executive director.

8. Women are phenomenal; we are usually juggling a lot more than men have to. Most women directors I know have families and have raised children. They have a life outside of the museum. Camille Giraud Akeju, Smithsonian Institution's Anacostia Community Museum.


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