Empowering Women in Global Engagement
Director of the Webster International Network of Schools (WINS)
1. What prompted you to work in the field of international education and what has been your career trajectory until today?
Given my background, experience and interests, this field is a perfect match for me. After finishing my degree in journalism and working at a newspaper in Chicago, I loved the experience but wanted to internationalize my career. Eventually I found a teaching job in northern Peru, and launched a new path in education that included teaching and running non-profit programs for the international community in my hometown of St. Louis. When I first came to Webster University ten years ago, it was to pursue a degree in international relations and then move on to become an international journalist. But I never left and instead have found my calling as an international educator and leader.
2. Why did you want to assist in starting The League?
Promoting and advancing women’s leadership has long been important to me, and someone recommended that I get involved in the initial conversations about this new organization supporting female leaders. I was immediately interested and became more deeply involved following the first face-to- face planning meeting, where a key group of members laid the groundwork for The League’s function, structure and mission. Women are less likely than men to pursue leadership roles, and there are many reasons for this. The field of international education needs an organization like The League, which intends to dramatically change the landscape of higher education. The Forum on Education Abroad conducted research a couple of years ago and found that there is a pay gap in our field, and that men make $9,962 more than women in the same position. We are living in a world of exponential change, yet we frequently rely on systems and structures that have remained the same for centuries. This needs to change. I am thrilled and honored to be a part of The League, and to be a forerunner of the movement towards more balanced and inclusive leadership in the field of international higher education.
3. What are some of the challenges you have faced as a female working in the field of international education and have you been able to overcome them and if so how?
There have been a number of challenging situations throughout my leadership journey, which are specifically gender-related, but I think that the biggest challenge for me has been balancing my ambition with my femininity. I think that, even within U.S. and other Western cultures, femininity is often defined for women instead of by women and that women are frequently expected to be kind, compassionate, warm, agreeable and overall selfless. These are admirable traits, but not always the most important when pursuing one’s own goals. While I have overcome this, I think that many times in my career I have put others’ needs ahead of my own in ways that sacrificed my own goals, ability and ambition. Once, I didn’t even apply for a job I wanted, simply not to upset a fellow coworker who had applied for the same job! That was a choice, of course, but it relates to the notion of the “double bind” that women regularly face in the workforce. Oftentimes, leadership characteristics such as assertiveness, decisive and independent are considered masculine. Studies show that when women exhibit these characteristics, that they are often seen as unlikeable instead of competent. For me, the first step in overcoming this double bind was recognizing it, and recognizing not just the concept but the many places in which it surfaced in my life. Once I realized that I was making choices based on what I thought others expected of me, it became easier to stop myself and eventually to make decisions and take action based on my own goals. This is true for my personal and professional life, and while it has taken many years it has made a tremendous difference in my leadership journey.
4. Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years from now?
I’m on a path within the field of international higher education. In 5-10 years I expect to be significantly further along in my leadership journey and further into the process of changing the landscape of higher education. I will have completed my doctorate, in transformative learning in the global community, and plan to be publishing regularly on the subject of study abroad and global learning outcomes. I will have played a major role in helping Webster reach its Generation Abroad commitment, which is to double the number of students studying abroad by 2020. In 5-10 years, I hope to be on my way to, if not established in, a senior level leadership position in international higher education; and, to be actively contributing to the practice and scholarship of inclusive leadership and competency building.
5. What is one travel tip you have for female travelers?
Dream big, dig deep and travel far and often in life. Never stop learning. Travel can bring the most profound, life-changing experiences but also brings challenges particularly for women travelers who are frequently targets of crime. Females must be brave but also cautious. For this I’ll also refer to the sage advice of one of the most important contributors to women’s leadership, Sheryl Sandberg, who said “don’t leave before you leave.” In her book Lean In, Sandberg dedicated an entire chapter to this notion, particularly as it relates to women and their career paths. She explained that many women drop out of leadership roles before even giving them a try, for fear of incompetence or an inability to balance career and family. I think that women also do this when it comes to travel, taking themselves out of the running for international travel because it seems daunting or because of family obligations.
For me, travel has provided the most empowering experiences of my life and has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone. To other female travelers, I suggest travelling as far and as often as possible. Be an agent of change. Don’t let fear hold you back.
Kim McGrath is an international specialist with more than fifteen years of experience from a broad range of institutions, including ten years of progressive positions in international education. Her previous roles encompass elementary and higher education, journalism, bilingual and overseas work in teaching, training, student services, marketing and community outreach. Kim holds a B.A. in journalism from Truman State University, a M.A. in international relations from Webster University; and, is pursuing her education doctorate at Webster. In her current role as Director of the Webster International Network of Schools (WINS) program, Kim spearheads initiatives for WINS affiliate students and organizations worldwide, fostering relationships among participating institutions; and, she regularly presents on global learning and women’s leadership. She has served as adjunct faculty and was a Global Leadership Academy fellow at Webster in 2013-2014.