Linda Basch has held diverse leadership positions spanning higher education, the United Nations, the non-profit sector and facilitating research on corporate issues. An anthropologist, Linda worked as a Research Director at the United Nations, where she focused on social and economic development. Transitioning to higher education, she held senior leadership roles at New York University and Manhattan and Wagner Colleges, serving as Director of Academic Programs, Dean of Arts and Sciences and Academic Vice President respectively.
What do you think is currently the largest constraint for women in the labor market?
Women are not homogenous, so we need to look at how women, who are differentially positioned participate in the labor market. Socioeconomic class is particularly important, because women in different class positions encounter different constraints.
Today, women are nearly half the labor force and hold half the managerial positions. But for women, especially those in the middle class and above, it has been very difficult to put sufficient cracks in the glass ceiling to break into positions of top leadership. And there are a variety of historic and cultural reasons for this.
For women at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder, there are multiple constraints, including the low minimum wage, which keeps people and families living below the poverty line. This situation is compounded by the absence of training programs and educational opportunities for people who don’t have money. Another factor that affects women in all socioeconomic classes is the absence of publicly funded child care, although this is particularly problematic for women with low paying jobs who cannot afford day care, or women who cannot go to work at all because they have no one to take care of their children.
How do you feel about all the attention rape culture at various top tier universities are getting?
This is a huge issue. We’re seeing rape surface across the world in many sectors, including the military, and we need to find solutions. I’m glad this issue is receiving attention on university campuses – we need a national and even global debate on the topic. Clearly this is not yet being handled well on academic campuses, where so many issues and interests get in the way. When I was an academic dean, I saw some of the challenges – and how women often ended up in a compromised position, feeling betrayed for having come forth with their claims. Some suggestions are being put forth for bringing the legal system into a relationship with academic institutions in working on this issue.
We also need advocacy here – pressure from women and women’s organizations across university campuses because no campus is immune to this. There seems to be something in the culture that doesn’t take this as seriously as it needs to be taken. Violence against women and rape are often posited as women’s issues, but they’re not – they’re issues of power and they’re everyone’s issues. And men also are often involved as victims. In terms of the global dimensions of the issue – research has shown that one in three women will be victims of violence in their lifetimes, and this is across socioeconomic classes – so we clearly need many more women and men involved in expressing outrage and searching for solutions.
What does women’s leadership mean to you?
To me, women’s leadership means values-based leadership and a concern for social justice and equality. It’s also about empathy, passion, and articulating values. It’s about having a vision, a vision further developed in dialogue with others, and getting others on board behind the vision and goals. And it’s about promoting others and giving others the opportunity to lead, at different levels.
How would you define your leadership style and why?
What’s important to me as a leader: to be able to inspire and encourage others to move forward; to be willing to stake out a vision and direction; to recognize that issues are complicated and there are many points of view that need to be worked through; to be open to the ideas of others; to be persuasive yet balanced; to be self-aware and in control of my own feelings; to be positive in the assertion of my leadership and aware of the feelings of others; to be concerned about who is being left out and why are they being left out; to nurture the leadership of others; and to have a good balance of passion and empathy. These are the values I try to live by as a leader and the reason I feel comfortable encouraging others to follow my lead. And as important, I believe that power can be shared and that collaboration can be one of the most effective ways of approaching problems and developing meaningful solutions.
What has been your greatest accomplishment?
One of my greatest accomplishments was further building the National Council for Research on Women (NCRW), which I headed for 16 years. I was the organization’s third leader and the first to come from outside the orbit of founders. I was passionate about the organization’s mission of building rights and opportunities for women and girls and its collaborative orientation. But it was severely underfunded. Building on its base and working with many others, I was able to further build NCRW into a viable, programmatically strong and financially healthy organization with a big umbrella that encompassed women’s organizations, academic centers and corporate partners. I thought of NCRW in terms of the acronym ARC: we Advocated for what we believed in, we catalyzed Research that drove change; and we Collaborated to achieve our goals – three important ingredients for our success.
What was your biggest mistake?
I think that my biggest mistake was not speaking up more when I was an academic Dean and Vice President. As I mentioned, men dominated the space. I saw many problems and think I could have been more of an asset to the men leading if I had been able to share my insights in a productive and positive way and if I had the confidence to name, in a diplomatic way, what I was seeing. That’s actually why we need a critical mass of women, or any underrepresented minority, in place to support each other in being as strong partners as possible.
What are the biggest challenges women aspiring to be leaders still face today?
Women aspiring to be leaders still face a paucity of role models in a number of fields and the absence of a critical mass of women, who can act as supporters of one another. Because of these factors, it’s difficult for aspiring women leaders to place demands on systems for change that will make institutions more responsive to their needs. But it’s important for women to develop both the critiques and strategies that can lead to more women-friendly and -supportive environments and cultures; I believe that such environments will be good for everyone – men as well as women, and their families.