When Women Lead: Integrative Leadership in State Legislatures

By Cindy Simon Rosenthal | Go to book overview
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Another senior staffer commented, "Senator [. . . .] wants to hear every side of an issue. She meets and meets and meets." 113

All the female committee chairs identified the importance of listening as a leadership skill. In contrast, only one man emphasized listening skills. As a means of managing conflict, one chairwoman noted, "The technique I use is to let people be heard." 114 Another woman noted that her particular committee dealt with appropriations and thus factual data drove most discussions, nonetheless she commented: "I like folk to talk and say what they believe to be so. . . . Then I try to look for common ground, build from there, and to ask what are the common denominators."115

Contrast those methods of resolving conflict with the comments of a senior House chairman: "Conflicts are not going to be resolved. The chairman just has to decide whether to hear the bill and how to vote in case of a tie." 116

Another integrative quality attributed to the women chairs involved their view of leadership as educating their colleagues. In part, this view may reflect the backgrounds of women serving in the Oklahoma Legislature. 117 A significant proportion of past and current women lawmakers were teachers. Several chairwomen employed classroom terminology to describe their committee experiences. One compared her committee style to that of a college instructor leading a graduate seminar. 118 Another explained that she asks a lot of questions in committee because "I teach by asking questions. Even with my grandchild that's the method I use. By my questions I try to cause people to think." 119

Seeing education as an aspect of leadership may be primarily a function of background and socialization, but it also carries a different emphasis. Whereas many of Oklahoma's male legislators honed their leadership skills in a military environment emphasizing command, control, loyalty, and discipline, educators have been instilled with other values including nurturing, guiding discovery, and encouraging self-expression. Summing up the difference, one woman said, "I believe educators should be facilitators, not dictators."120


Conclusion

The Oklahoma Legislature is not the friendliest environment for women as committee leaders. It has proven a hard club for women to join, and when they acquire power, they are treated as "intruders." 121 Their status as tokens makes them lightning rods for attention and defines them with stereotypes.

Furthermore, the Oklahoma Legislature's procedures are at odds with the "female" styles of consensus building, collaboration, and noncompetitive decision making. The demands of being a committee chair place a premium on parliamentary control, autonomous decision making, and an almost mechanistic approach to scheduling and workload management. The physical setting similarly reflects an environment in which aggregative leadership is more at home. Quieter, more deliberative forms of leadership take time, a commodity in short supply in the Oklahoma Legislature.

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