Demonstrating the commitment necessary to become leaders, approximately 25 Harvard-Radcliffe women cut their summer vacations short and came to school a week early to learn effective methods of leadership.
The women are attending the week-long Women's Leadership Conference, which features talks from successful women, workshops and discussion groups designed to improve leadership skills such as communication, negotiation, and participation in the context of a male-dominated society.
Organizers say that women at Harvard-Radcliffe are not adequately trained to take on active leadership roles, and the conference is also designed to develop proposals for changes at Harvard-Radcliffe that would foster such skills.
"We're trying to see how college can help you better prepare yourself for the leadership goals you are trying to obtain," said Meredith G. Lazo '89, co-director of the Women's Leadership Project.
Conference organizers would not speculate as to what kind of specific proposals for change at Harvard-Radcliffe they might come up with, but felt that these proposals would evolve from the week's discussions.
Last Thursday Radcliffe President Matina S. Horner delivered the keynote speech of the conference, which is sponsored jointly by Harvard, Radcliffe and the Kennedy School's Institute of Politics.
Women have made great progress in recent years, Horner said, but their movement is inhibited by outdated attitudes of members of both sexes.
Horner pointed out the increasing influence of women in business, medicine and academics and quoted recent surveys which indicate strong public confidence in women leaders.
But Horner also spoke of obstacles to women seeking leadership positions such as the perceptions people have of the "proper" roles for each sex and the belief among some that power could not be shared with women, only transferred in a "zero-sum game."
"Traditional outmoded assumptions and expectations about the relative social, economic and political power have for too long silenced the voices of women," Horner said.
"Are men and women really sitting on opposite ends of the see-saw, such that every gain that a woman gets...means a loss for a man?" Horner asked. "[We are] equally unable to accept differences between us or our growing interdependence with one another."
Long-standing attitudes about the proper role of women also manifest themselves in a variety of fears. Horner, an associate professor of psychology and social relations, described a number of phenomena afflicting women, including fears of both success and failure, and the "imposter phenomenon," the tendency for highly successful women to disown their own accomplishments.