Monika Williams Shealey

Senior Vice President, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Rowan University

In your opinion, what qualities make a “Moves Mentor”?

I think a Moves Mentor is someone who is actually moving; they are moving in their space, whatever that space is, according to their careers. They are leading with passion and with intentionality, and people notice them. It’s not about how they feel about themselves. It’s about other people noticing how they are changing the game. As a result, this mentor becomes a powerful example of what’s possible and achievable.

I would say that a mentor can always influence the career trajectory of others, particularly their mentees, by pouring into them with their time, energy, and expertise, which allows them to grow and develop and continue to build this pipeline of leadership, particularly for women and women of color.

How does mentoring benefit the mentor? Career-wise? Intellectually? Spiritually? Socially? Any other “-allies”? 

I believe that mentoring impacted me personally and professionally in several ways. On a personal level, I always reflect on how I was mentored and supported in my own development by my teachers and mentors in school. And it gives me personal satisfaction to know that I can pay all that forward, that I can be a helping hand to someone else and see the potential in them that they might not be able to see for themselves- just like how someone was able to do that for me. 

And professionally, it’s about ensuring that the organization has great leaders who are poised to take over the baton and not just leaders. What we want in our organization is to have people who feel supported and valued. It’s all about sustainability and making sure that we’re staying viable, and for that, we need great leaders and employees. 

As a mentor, I’m always learning. Although I work in higher education, which is lifelong learning, I’m always excited to learn something else. There’s never a day where I am like; I got it, I’m good, I don’t need anything else. 

Should mentorship be a company requirement or a personal give-back?

I’ve seen mentorship in both ways. I’ve seen it in organizations where we are required to provide something for our folks, particularly pre-10 years, so before they go through 10 years, they have been assigned a formal mentor. 

Organizations need to acknowledge the value of mentorship and ensure that every person in the organization has a mentor. What that looks like can vary; there should be some flexibility when talking about mentorship as a requirement, and I think it should be personal give-back, too, because it takes some personal commitment and dedication to be able to take the time to listen and communicate effectively and to be able to open your network to the mentee. So, I think having a formal program is important. Still, the identification of mentors- has to be decided by the individuals who say, “Hey, I want to do this,” versus mandating leaders who also serve as mentors.

What is your mentorship method? Do you prefer a more hands-on or laidback approach?

It depends on what the mentee has identified as a need or what they are trying to get out of the relationship. Sometimes I get mentees who are engaged in work that is outside my area of expertise. For example, I once had a mentee from the college of engineering. I didn’t really understand the work she has done, and I couldn’t give her feedback related to her work as an engineer. However, she also asked me for help with getting her work published, and that was something I could help her with, So I like to let the mentees lead in terms of what they are searching for in this relationship. I am very honest about what I can give and where I believe I can be helpful and where I cannot, so they don’t have expectations of me I can’t meet. 

What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time 15 years?

Let’s see, 15 years ago, I was a new mother of one, and I would tell myself, if I could go back in time, you are going to make so many mistakes, so don’t beat yourself up about not being the best mom, the best wife, the best assistant professor, and just know that it is okay for you to say no to somethings that may sound like great opportunities. It has been hard for me to say no because I feel like, particularly on a professional level, when exciting opportunities come, I think they are so important to me and my trajectory. I don’t want to miss them because I think they may not come back again. But if I could tell myself something early in my career, I would say that when you say yes to something, you say no to something else that you could be doing at that very time, and you have to be okay with that and stop searching for balance and making sure everything is just right.

“In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism… in the 21st is century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for fairness and gender equality around the world.” *  Why is gender equality even a challenge, especially in the ‘enlightened’ western world?

I don’t know why is this a thing! I was also thinking recently about the Women’s Suffrage March, and I was thinking about it because I am a member of a sorority, and our sorority was the only black women’s group that marched in the Women’s Suffrage March in 1914, I believe. And I was thinking about the fact that at that time, there was this belief that women were less than subordinates because of the package that we came in. Somehow our brain was not equal to a man’s, so imagin the courage that it must have taken these women at that time who didn’t have a framework, didn’t have a roadmap, and were just marching in 1914. 

I think that the fact we are still talking about this today is baffling to me, but we still get those messages, those subtle and explicit messages that tell us that women are not enough. Those messages that we get when they talk about how a woman can’t lead a country. Women can’t lead an organization; they are too emotional, they have to take care of the home, and sometimes I hear it from other women, and that’s the hard part. I sometimes think that some of us internalize those messages that we are receiving, and we start to believe them. 

We are not acting in our best interests as women; that’s why this is still a challenge. As a society, those messages persist, and they are passed on to the next generation, and we build systems that allow us to continue- to perpetuate inequity. If we look at the pay gap, there are systems, corporate and non-corporate, where the pay gap is embedded in the system like it’s set up that way. I believe we have to work really hard to dismantle those systems of oppression that impact women, people of color, and individuals with disabilities, all of those are unfortunately still not receiving the respect. Still, also, they’re not receiving the equity. It’s crucial to make those changes because they are systemic, and it will take decades for us to undo what we have done. 

Simone de Beuvoir the major stumbling block in the 21st century, road to equality do you think that the discrimination of women comes from the bottom up or top down?

We know that discrimination can come from the top; when you are denied opportunities for advancement, when you are treated differently because you are a woman, and when you experience sabotage. You could be hired, and then people or the employer could say, see, we have this woman here in this area, here you go, point to a woman, but then she’s not respected, she’s not supported, she’s not valued, so it’s just really window dressing. 

I don’t think discrimination can come from the bottom because it feels like discrimination really has to be coming from a position of power, authority, and influence, so I think from the bottom, you could see people that may treat you differently based on your gender. They might not support your leadership or your efforts, but I don’t think that discrimination can happen from the bottom. 

What do you want the next generation of power women to know?

I want them to know that they can accomplish so much if they support other women. I have worked at three different institutions, and still, when I go into a new space, I feel happy to see that there are other women there. I get excited to see other women in leadership positions, women that people are talking about, how wonderful she is, how amazing she is- I feel excited to be in the room with those women. 

Sometimes I notice that those powerful women are not supportive of the other women in the room who are either at their level or aspire to be at that level. So, I believe we have an obligation to support other women. We often hear these strategies that if you make a suggestion in a meeting, men don’t listen to it, they don’t hear what you say, they move on to the next thing, then my strategy is to amplify what you just said. 

Women supporting each other allows us all to be seen, and I think there’s enough room for all of us to be able to lead and be powerful. So, in terms of the next generation, I hope that we are modeling that for them. Another thing is this whole notion that we can’t have it all, you know they always talk about that ‘Can women have it all?’ and I think you often start to believe that you can’t have everything you want. And so yes, there are sacrifices to be made, and yes, there are times when you decide to put personal over professional, and vice versa. But we need to stop sending the message that women can’t have it all and maybe allow women to decide what having it all means for them because it means something different to every woman. And that’s why sometimes we talk ourselves out of opportunities because we believe that we can’t have everything that we want at the same time.

Was there a defining moment or experience in your life that led you to where you are today? What was it?

I would say there was a moment when I had two young children, and I was working hard to get 10 years at that time, and other women told me; other faculty members who were 10 yearned, that I might want to wait to have kids until after I got 10 years because it was so hard. It’s a 6-year window, and most women who are in that 6-year window, those are their childbearing years, and when you’re a young professional, this is the time you’re supposed to be starting a family, but you are working towards 10 years, and you have such a small window of time to do that. So, I was told I should wait. 

I had just gotten married a year before I started my Ph.D. program, and so my husband at the time was very eager to start a family. I kept saying, no, I have to wait until I finish my doc program, and I have to wait until I get 10 years, and then I decided that I would have it all. 

I was going to get pregnant, have babies, and I was going to get 10 years. And I did it. I did not stop my 10-year clock. At the University, you can stop the time and say, “ Okay, I’m going to opt out for a year, stop the clock and go on maternity leave, then start the clock when I come back. Well, I didn’t stop the clock. I had two kids during the 6-year period, and I got 10 years. 

And after I got 10 years, I was asked by another mentor I had worked with in Milwaukee to come to Kansas City at the University of Missouri and become Associate Dean of the college, and I was just a professor. I just had two kids, I had just gone through 10 years, so I was like, ‘Why would I want to be an associate dean, a college leader?’ I just want to teach my classes, do my research and then go home to my kids. And she said you need to do this because I believe you will make an amazing leader in the area of education.

I couldn’t see that because I’ve never led anything in higher ed, so why would you think I could do this? and that was the moment that I leaned into leadership, or I stepped up to leadership or how people phrase it, and I said I was going to try it on. I’m going to try it on with a mentor whom I trusted, and I believe that would support me as I was learning to become a leader in higher ed, and that led me then to becoming a dean, and now Senior Vice President, and maybe one day, a president of a university. But it was that moment that I said that I am going to do something that looked scary; I don’t think I am ready for it- But I’m going to do it anyway. 

How does diversity play into mentorship?

Once, one of my mentors told me: “You have everything you need. You already have everything you need to be successful to reach your goals. You are enough.” It sucked out to me to the point I forgot a mentor said it because it became my personal mantra now, and I’ve started to own it. I’m not saying that means I can’t go to another workshop, I can’t read another book, but somehow for me, it means that I am capable of reaching the highest heights, and I don’t have to feel less than. So, when I walk into a room, and I’m the youngest person, I don’t feel intimidated. When I walk into the room, I’m the only person of color or the only woman in the room. I don’t feel threatened; I don’t feel like I shouldn’t be here. I keep telling myself that I am here for a reason; I’m supposed to be here. But someone had to tell me that because growing up, I just didn’t know that. 

If it is true that whenever women are involved in any one aspect of life – domestic, business, recreation –  the empirical evidence shows that activity is enhanced in a real and tangible way, why is there such fierce resistance to this female influence?

Again, I think the resistance comes from these explicit but also subtle messages that women are less than men and that they are subordinate to men. Until we change that narrative, it’s going to be challenging to be able to convince men who have been socialized in this way their entire life to suddenly change the narrative, and say, ‘Oh, you know what, I get it, I have been wrong” They need to be able to embrace the fact that ultimately we are human. There are no limitations based on our gender in terms of what we can do in the workplace. So, I think it’s going to take attitudinal changes and a shift in mindset, which is challenging

Who do you most admire? Why? 

There are so many people that I admire, so many women I run into in my life every day. But I would say that I most admire the teachers that I encountered as I grew up in a small town in Florida where our biggest industry was the citrus industry, like orange trees, people picking fruit, and the school system. It was just those two, manual labor (picking fruit) and then education; schools, the principles, and the people working to keep the school clean, and I can tell you that I got so many positive affirmations from my teachers. ‘You are smart. You are going to do great things, Monica. You are going to make our town proud.’ Those are the women that I admired growing up and still do. And honestly, even though I came to college to be a business major, somehow, I got back to education. I took an elective in the college of education, and I realized I wanted to be what those women were for me, and I became a teacher. So, I would say I admire teachers and the power they have to change the trajectory of someone’s life. 

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