PAAIGE K. TURNER, PH.D.
Associate Dean and Professor, School of Communications at Webster University
1. What was your dream job as a kid and why?
I wanted to be a dancer who traveled the world and I also wanted to be a scientist who would figure things out. As a scholar who studies the body in the workplace and consults on international education I have blended all of those into what I do today.
2. What has been your leadership path?
My path has been both average (a mathematical fact) and “not” normal (a socially
constructed expectation). Average in that most women do not take a “normal” career path where they move through high school, college, entry position, management position and then c-level.
My first pass at college ended 8-weeks into the Fall semester of my sophomore year when I decided that I really didn’t know what was going on in my classes. I dropped out and went to a secretarial school where I learned the “new” word processing technology, shorthand, and filing. After working as a secretary for 4 years I returned to earn my BS in Rhetoric, Marketing and Real Estate Finance and then my MS and PhD in Organizational Communication. As an assistant professor I volunteered for service opportunities that gave me a breadth of experience across the university including student affairs, human resources, finance, curriculum, technology and housing. After five years as an associate professor, the Vice President of Academic Affairs’ office created a position and invited me to apply. I was repeatedly warned not to take the position, since I was not a full professor, had not served as a department chair nor had I worked as an associate dean or dean. While all of these were true, the experiences and knowledge I gained as an Associate Vice President allowed me to understand the pressure points and opportunities that are part of a university. During this time, the Vice President asked me what I wanted to do next and I said, “Seems like international is going to be important” and I became the institution’s first Senior International Officer. I asked everyone and anyone, “Who do you read in international education, what organizations do you belong to, what are you worried or excited about?” I attended NAFSA, AIEA and ICCI. I quickly became involved in initiatives where I learned about internationalization while sharing my background in higher education and organizational communication. Using my planning and facilitation skills, I established a globalization taskforce at my institution, implemented the AIEA’s Senior Adviser Program, became a co-facilitator at the Institute for Curriculum and Campus Internationalization, and was awarded a Fulbright-Nehru International Education Administrators Award for India. After four years, I returned to faculty status to complete research projects on women in the workplace which allowed me to move to Webster University as a Professor and Associate Dean. As Associate Dean, I have used the knowledge I gained about university-level processes to work on college/school level issues such as assessment, course scheduling and advising across our domestic and international campuses. As women, we tend to make decisions or judge success against a normal or expected career path. The problem is that normal is defined according to what is possible for those who are in power….and today that is an unlikely trajectory for anyone. How many people can you name whose career path looks “normal?” Instead, I have always asked myself, “What can I learn from the opportunity in front of me?” and “How would I recover if it didn’t work out?”
3. What skills do you use most often in your leadership role(s)?
My academic area is organizational communication which means I have developed skills for identifying the meanings people hold and the processes by which they create or challenge those meanings. For example when working with higher education institutions on internationalization I work to identify what internationalization means (e.g., more international students, increased mobility, more international publications) and what processes are in place that support or undermine that meaning (e.g., international student services, transferable scholarships, international travel fund for faculty). I will then work to either shift the meaning or align the processes with the desired meaning. I also talk with and listen to every individual or group I can so that I know what matters to them. This allows me to put together what may appear to be divergent or unknown goals in a way that benefits multiple groups. For example, a conversation in a parking garage with an English professor, a meeting with institutional technology, a walk through of a building with a department chair, and lunch with a learning center director led to the development of a budget-neutral, retrofit for an award winning innovative classroom. Finally, I look for alternative venues to use my skills. I have excellent meeting facilitation and planning skills and have taken these into my academic research, administration, and service. While I may not be an expert in the subject area, my skills are often in high demand so I get to learn something new and provide a valuable resource.
4. What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership today? What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
There are two, entwined challenges that women will continue to face. First is the imposter syndrome and the second is the belief that women no longer face challenges in the workplace. The imposter syndrome is when you worry that someone is going to ask you an answerable question and discover that you are an imposter who doesn’t really belong. Overwhelmingly, women undervalue their contributions, self-depreciate or attribute their success to luck. One small act that can help change that meaning is how you respond when thanked for your work. Do not reply, “No problem” or “It wasn’t a big deal” because in that moment you diminish your contribution. Instead answer, “Thank you for noticing,” “I’m glad I could be of help,” or ‘You’d do the same for me.” In the US the latter plays off our cultural expectation that help should be reciprocated and opens a space to ask the individual to contribute to a future project. At the same time, women ARE imposters in the workplace but are increasingly being told that the struggle is over. Setting aside the pay differences, the workplace is still designed around the male body. In classrooms, my pregnant body could not fit into the desk. The workday presumes that there is someone at home taking care of the children, parents, laundry, vacation planning, or other non-work activities. Assertive, masculine communication is the preferred form of professional communication, yet women are sanctioned for using it. Professional consultants tell us to ask for opportunities and promotions, yet when women do so they are criticized for being too ambitious. Women must move past feeling like an imposter while simultaneously recognizing that the workplace defines them as one….all while being told that the fight is over, yet feeling that it really isn’t. Now, imagine these same challenges as we work across international borders and expectations. How do I, as a professional, value intercultural differences while working in a context whose very structure and expectations may challenge the idea of a woman as a professional? This is going to take some effort.
5. You’ve written quite a bit on women’s issues in the workforce. In your opinion, what is the most important message, or advice for current and aspiring female leaders in international higher education?
At the individual level, when someone compliments your work thank them and ask them to send you and your boss an email to document your contributions. I personally keep all of these in a drawer that I open and re-read on days when I feel overwhelmed. It reminds me that I have done it before and I, likely, can do it again. I also strongly recommend that women maintain a personal inventory of their skills, knowledge and activities to counter the imposter syndrome and to share when opportunities arise (Turner, Norwood, & Noe, 2013). Identify situations where your knowledge or skill might be helpful but not readily apparent. Is your institution building new residence halls? Could your background in international education help with the design? A new initiative for recruiting domestic students? What can your experience dealing with diverse populations contribute? According to Babcock and Laschever (2003), women undervalue themselves when asking for raises and opportunities. If you know what you have done, you are more likely to ask and be able to provide substantive reasons for your request. At the macro level, one of the most popular forms of leadership in the United States is Transformational Leadership. In Transformational Leadership leaders work with and inspire others. They demonstrate genuine concern for the needs and feelings of others and allow for innovation and creativity. In sum, the skills and behaviors of transformational leadership are the very skills and behaviors expected of women and the goals are the same as those set forth by leaders in internationalization. This means that right now, in this moment, the behaviors women have been told to develop, the educational goals of internationalization, and the skills recognized as effective for leadership are aligning. We can be successful transformational leaders by being “good” women leaders in international higher education. As leaders we can raise questions about what is or is not appropriate behavior as we learn together about cultural differences while inspiring others to think about how they work with each other (including us as women). As leaders in international higher education, we can recognize that when we value the practices of others we are simultaneously valuing ourselves as professionals even in a simple act of wearing a hijab. When confronted with a workplace that defines us as imposters, we can engage in thoughtful conversations about cultural values and global changes exposing the system while honoring the differences. We, as women in higher education internationalization leadership positions, are uniquely poised to identify shared goals, respect differences, celebrate small steps that lead to large successes, and honor the unique value each and every individual brings to a project.
Babcock, L., & Laschever, S. (2003). Women don't ask: Negotiation and the gender divide. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Turner, P. K., & Norwood, K. (2014). The elephant in the room: Negotiating visible pregnancy in job interviews. Women and Language, 37, 41-62.
Turner, P. K. & Norwood, K. (2014). 'I had the luxury...' Organizing breastfeeding support as privatized privilege. Human Relations, 67, 849-874.
Turner, P. K., & Norwood, K. (2013). Unbounded motherhood: Embodying a good working mother identity. Management Communications Quarterly, 27, 396-424.
Turner, P. K., & Norwood, K., & Noe, C. (2013). A woman with a plan: Recognizing competencies for ascent to administration in higher education. NASPA Journal About Women in Higher Education, 6 (1) 22-47.
Dr. Paaige K. Turner has over 20 years as a researcher, faculty member and administrative in higher education. She has served as a director of graduate studies, interim director of women’s studies, associate dean and associate vice president. Dr. Turner received the Cheris Kramarae Dissertation Award (1998), Central States New Teacher Award (2000), the SLU Faculty Excellence Award (2003), SLU Star Award (2007), Presidential Citation for Service, National Communication Association (2007), Learning Happens Everywhere Award (2015) and is a four time finalist for the SLU Outstanding Teaching Award. She was the 2012 recipient of the NAFSA Region IV Dorothy Brickman Outstanding New Professional Award and a 2013 Fulbright-Nehru International Education Administrators Award to India. She serves on five editorial boards and has published over 30 book chapters and articles in the general area of organizational communication, specifically on topics of organizational socialization, customer satisfaction, midwifery and birth, breastfeeding and the body in the workplace. These have appeared in Management Communication Quarterly, Qualitative Inquiry, and Women & Language. She is an Associate Editor for The International Encyclopedia of Organizational Communication, past chair of the Organizational Communication Division of the National Communication Association, AIEA, Senior Adviser Program and a principal associate in Communication Resource Associates.