Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership Style: Speaking Out on Gender Issues

BOND: Now, let me move on to some questions about leadership philosophy. Do you see a difference between vision, philosophy, and style? And if you see a division, how do these interact for you — vision, philosophy and style? You spoke a moment ago about your style in learning how to speak out and speak up when previously you’d not done that. You’d modeled yourself on your mother, a relatively shy person. So you have a style, but what’s your philosophy, what’s your vision?

PINN: I’m not sure everybody likes my style because I did learn back then to speak up and speak out if you wanted to accomplish something and fortunately or unfortunately that’s been with me since and I guess especially in the position I’m in now, I’ve really had to learn how to be able and be willing to speak out but to learn how to do it so that I’m not offensive or seen as too aggressive because sometimes that can take away from accomplishing what you want to do.

BOND: Is that particularly true for women?

PINN: I think it’s far more true, more the case for women. I’ve seen women leaders that I’ve worked with, worked under, who’ve been criticized for their “aggressiveness” for doing — for exhibiting the same kind of leadership that in a man would be seen as a very positive trait. And this isn’t new and I’m not the only one that’s witnessed that, but it’s been a recurring thing that I’ve witnessed over the years. I can remember when I was Dean of Students at Tufts Medical School and having some excellent women medical students who didn’t do well in their rotations because they didn’t speak up and yet I knew they had the knowledge. I knew they were bright young women and I’d have to say, "Yes, they’ll call us the b-word if you speak up too much, but if you want to get an A in that rotation, you’ve got to learn to speak up. Don’t let these guys be aggressive, share what they know, and you stand there quietly and demurely and be thought to be dumb. Speak up."

And so it’s been a matter of my having experienced this, watching others experience the concept of if you’re a woman speaking up and being forthcoming and how you’re thought of by doing that versus being thought of as not having the knowledge, not having the information, not having the ability or the skills because you don’t speak up, so that’s been part of my tact in advising young women in science or whatever their careers. But there has to be a balance because you don’t want to be obnoxious in being aggressive or overly aggressive, so I’ve had to try to learn how to do that, how to be forthcoming, how to be — how to move forward and to be outspoken but at the same time not be offensive and that’s what I try to talk to young women about. And I’ve just — it’s very true for me, watching women leaders who really get put down for being outgoing and speaking up and the very traits that would been seen as positive traits in men.