The riddle Kanda-Olmstead presented in her TED talk was discussed at The Womxn in Focus series Dec. 1. 

In “The Science of Women’s Leadership” TED Talk, Alexis Kanda-Olmstead presents this old riddle to her audience: A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad. The son is rushed to the hospital, and just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate — that boy is my son!” Explain. 

Olmstead reveals that the surgeon is the boy’s mother. In a Boston University study that offered insight into the depths of gender bias, the minority of subjects answered the riddle correctly. 

The Womxn in Focus, in collaboration with the associate vice president for equity and inclusion at JMU, held an event Dec. 1 that discussed the riddle, women in leadership positions and emotionally intelligent leadership. Brent Lewis, associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, spoke about the double standard that women in leadership positions face.

“Individuals who identify as women and are leaders are held to different standards,” Lewis said. “There are ways in which I think society expects women to lead that we don’t expect from men who lead.” 

Misty Newman, associate director at JMU, said this issue resonated with her because she said she’s noticed that women are sometimes labeled as aggressive and bossy in the workplace while men are hailed as leaders when both are demonstrating the same behavior.

Newman also noted that women are less likely to apply for jobs if they don’t have 100% of the qualifications, while men are more likely to hand in their application with only around 50% of the qualifications. 

Colleen Waller, liaison to the College of Arts and Letters, said that when looking over students’ resumes, she noticed that women wouldn’t put down leadership as a skill in their resume unless that was their title at a job or internship. She said men were more likely to put leadership in their skill section even if they had little to no experience under their belt.

Allahjah Smith, an engagement fellow for diversity, equity and inclusion, said she’s never looked at herself as a leader until someone told her she was.

“I feel like that has something to do with the way that we have been socialized as women,” Smith said. “We can’t give ourselves credit until someone else does — perhaps a man or someone with more power than us.”

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, women represent 58.4% of all students enrolled in higher education institutions since 2017. 

“However, despite women obtaining more tertiary qualifications, senior roles across various fields are still held predominatly by men, even in industries that are considered female dominated,” according to “on the record.”JM

Women also have an upperhand in the ability to lead because of emotional intelligence, which often comes more naturally to them, Newman said. 

She said that this leg up could help boost confidence in women who have leadership positions or want to seek them out. Lewis said that seeing the first woman as the vice president of the U.S. will also be an opportunity for women to see themselves as leaders.

“The next four years is the time for women to capitalize on the moment that is happening in our country,” Lewis said. “These firsts are a moment to get what you’re looking for and to do it fearlessly.”

Contact Isabela Gladston at gladstia@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.