Stands with a Fist: 8 Reasons for Women to Pursue a Master’s Degree in Organizational Leadership

by Sandi Coyne, Program Director, Master of Science in Organizational Leadership

Women today find themselves in a unique place. With sexual harassment front and center in world news, and the pay gaps that are plaguing every industry from movies to Main Street, women are the topic — and their careers the outcome. The question is: are women ready for the next steps?

That would be an easy question to answer if women could just set about achieving their identified goals, but many find themselves ill equipped to navigate the business world. Because they have not felt encouraged to expand their roles beyond that of nurturers, women attempting to further their careers must deal with the fear of being perceived as frauds — and have no idea what to do next.

One strong way to be prepared for a career is to get a degree and then apply for jobs. Women are graduating with bachelor’s degrees at faster and faster rates, but these degrees are not making the difference women hope for in their journeys. Women are still earning less than their male counterparts. Women grapple with dissatisfaction, disengagement, and perhaps bitterness. What can a woman do? If a bachelor’s degree is not adequately preparing a woman for the workplace, what can? How can a woman find satisfaction in a job well done if she is not making headway in her career despite her best efforts?

In the 1990 Kevin Costner movie “Dances with Wolves,” set during the Civil War, a female character is kidnapped and forced to live with the Lakota Indians who give her the name “Stands with a Fist.” This powerful visual — an open hand, palm up, with a fist in the open hand — implies that a woman must be prepared to be tough and to stand up for herself but still be able to fit into the environment in which she works. These are lessons learned by many women. Fast forward to today’s workplace. If women make up over 50% of the country’s workforce, but aren’t prepared for leadership, what can be done to provide the “fist-in-hand” training they intrinsically need?

Perhaps advanced education holds the key. There are many reasons why someone pursues further education. Naturally, it is important to gain more knowledge about one’s field, but it is often the confidence, problem-solving skills, and willingness to take measured risks that truly inspire a woman to bring her “best self” forward. And if we think about claiming — or reclaiming — that best self, what are the top eight reasons a woman should get a master’s degree in leadership?

  1. Building negotiation skills

Women learn to negotiate from a unique perspective. You don’t have to know from the outset how to negotiate to be successful, just try it and keep working on it. Practice works with tennis, piano, and dance, why not negotiation? According to Forbes, women often don’t even attempt negotiation and so remain at the whim of others. An organizational leadership degree introduces the art of negotiation and continues the skill-building process throughout the course of study. Negotiation in this environment promotes understanding and ultimately a greater appreciation for how an individual conducts business.

  1. Conflict is tough.

Women often state that they are uncomfortable with conflict and avoid it at all costs. Side-stepping conflict will not earn you a prime position, but it will lead to your being passed over for advancement! Leadership degrees promote the appreciation of all conflict styles, not a single style that leaves conflict unresolved.

  1. Strong leadership: everyone wins

Leadership — strong, effective leadership — transforms workplaces. Through sustained exposure and discussion, women can develop a strong and resilient approach to their leadership. As individuals thrive in environments where leadership practices are strong and women have a voice, organizations benefit holistically. Gender-diverse workplaces reflect strong bottom lines as well as consistent workforces.

  1. Self-Efficacy!

Many women do not feel they have control over their lives, their choices, and their careers. Suzi Skinner, the Sydney, Australia-based business coach of SelfTalk, conducted a three-year study on women in leadership in conjunction with the Institute of Coaching at Harvard University. She discovered that many women are confident about their ability to do their own job, but question their leadership ability. Leadership as a study demands more than the completion of assignments: it demands focus on the individual as a leader. This is a critical way that a woman can benefit from a master’s in leadership. She must work on her own leadership if she is to properly complete the degree process and lead and inspire others!

  1. Assertive versus aggressive

Many women would state they are not assertive, and sometimes they are even not sure what the difference is between assertive and aggressive. Constructing conversations in which women are empowered and can take a risk by standing up for their idea or their process is one way a woman can try on the “coat” of assertiveness and make it fit her properly.

  1. Signature Leadership

Leadership is not a “one size fits all” model. But what style, approach, or model really fits a woman who does not have a role model or a mentor? Leadership learning in a graduate environment often provides women with a chance to work with a mentor or her advisor to best promote next steps!  Women need not leave their nurturing at home nor must they subscribe to a numbers-only perspective. Different work environments, different industries: there is room for all!

  1. Soft skills have a place at the table!

A recent report by iCIMS Hiring Insights finds that 94% of recruiting professionals believe employees with strong soft skills are more likely to be promoted. The report is based on an online survey of 400 HR/recruiting professionals conducted
by Wakefield Research between June 22 and July 3, 2017. The report finds that 58% of recruiting professionals believe soft skills are more important for leadership and management positions than for entry-level positions. For senior leadership, recruiting professionals rank problem solving (38 percent) as the most important soft skill, followed by oral communication (26 percent) and adaptability (17 percent). Leadership degrees focus on problem solving, oral communication, and the ability to be flexible.

  1. More leaders, fewer followers

Confidence in yourself and others promotes you. Leaders should develop new leaders, not more followers. A graduate degree in leadership provides opportunities to gain confidence in group and individual projects and support the development of the people around you.

A graduate degree in leadership can’t right all the wrongs women encounter in trying to advance their lives or their careers, but this is something a woman can do to have their own direction. A true “fist in hand experience”!

Interested in learning more about earning a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership?