Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Letters to Grandma: A Comparison of Generational Perspectives of Women's Growth as Higher Education Faculty

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Letters to Grandma: A Comparison of Generational Perspectives of Women's Growth as Higher Education Faculty

Article excerpt

As a student of qualitative research, I now view the world from the perspectives of frameworks and contexts, and I align my everyday interactions with grounded theory, open coding, and reflexive thoughts. I recently married my desire to try my hand at the qualitative approach to fact-gathering and data analysis with my ongoing interest in the relationships of women within the professional field of higher education. The result is a reflexive comparison of two very distinct professional experiences in the world of higher education, my own and that of my 87 year-old grandmother.

I became interested in the topic of women's professional relationships in higher education through personal experiences and informal conversations with other women. In a natural response to curiosity, I began looking for articles related to relationships between women within professional environments. It seemed that females should be connecting to prior generations in ways that encourage ongoing growth and development in women as a minority population (Bolman & Deal, 2008), but it did not appear that many articles, specifically related to professional women in higher education, were readily available (Clark, Caffarella, & Ingram, 1999; Glazer-Raymo, 1999; Rosser & Lane, 2002).

As a 34 year-old, female, aspiring professional in higher education--with degrees in both English and psychology--I had several negative experiences with female co-workers and supervisors in the workplace. Many times women made catty comments about me or other female employees during cooperative projects; these were distasteful communication practices identified in previous research regarding women in professional settings (Mooney, 2005; Tanenbaum, 2002).

My first superior instructed me to buy attire according to her tastes, and warned me that even though my hair was well-groomed, I might have to cut it in order to maintain a professional appearance acceptable to her. My last superior, a woman in a dean's position, literally danced down the hall when she heard I resigned to work full-time on my doctorate degree. Even though she was in her sixties, and planning to retire within the next five years, she could not see me as a protegee. She only saw me as her competition (Cullen & Luna, 1993).

In all of these instances I wondered what occurred that caused these women to feel the need to place themselves in competitive relationships with fellow female employees. I assumed many of these women would act as mentors in my own and others' development; but, they were instead aggressive and controlling within professional relationships with other women.

In addition to these perceived struggles with female co-workers, it concerned me that I might have communicated similar aggression to female co-workers within professional settings (LaFreniere & Longman, 2008; Northouse, 2010). I like to think of myself as congenial, but self-exploration and reflection may need to be part of every woman's journey to more fulfilling interpersonal relationships with other professional women.

Continuing down this path of discovery, I realized I had a unique resource available to me. My surrogate grandmother, a past instructor at a selective, private, Christian university in central Texas, had many experiences with female co-workers and supervisors during her time as a professional in higher education. She taught four years in the secretarial business department as part of an all-female staff and faculty. I believe it important to not only hear my grandmother's experiences as a professional woman in higher education during the 1950's, but also to utilize this information in a way that better defines current interpersonal relationships among professional women today.

Women feel compelled to support one another and befriend one another, even when such relationships are without depth or authenticity (Mooney, 2005). Without some in-depth exploration of the professional relationships among women, and the negativity I perceive within these relationships, women cannot break what many may view as a damaging cycle. …

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