May I ask what year you started out with your career? What was the gender ratio in academia? How did you feel as a female academic?
Thank you for this opportunity to share my experience and insights after a career in several different schools and countries. I retired early as Professor Emerita of Marketing and International Business at Saint Louis University so that I could pursue visiting positions in different parts of the world, such as Sultan Qaboos University in Oman, the Semester at Sea World Voyage, and California State University – San Marcos.
I am part of the older generation of women scholars who have lived a challenging life in academia as the ‘only’ woman in the room, the meeting, the department, or the panel during the 1970s, 80s and 90s. I finished my PhD in International Marketing at the University of Bradford School of Management in 1977 and my first teaching position was at ISCAE (Institut Superieur de Commerce et d’Administration des Entreprises) in Casablanca, Morocco where I was the only woman faculty member. While at ISCAE, I was teaching Marketing and IB courses in French as I am bilingual.
All my education took place in Britain and at that time there were only three business schools: London, Bradford, and Manchester. I took an MSc in Administrative Sciences at City University Graduate Business Center (now Bayes Business School). One of my courses there prepared me for the Paris Chamber of Commerce Diploma in Business French (written and spoken) so teaching in Morocco was a relatively easy adjustment.
Not having a peer group of women scholars has been the hallmark experience of my life and I have learned to become very self-sufficient. On coming to my first position in the US in 1981, (never having been to the country before), I knew hardly anything about what was expected of me. So I read everything I could find – faculty handbooks, newsletters, minutes of meetings, department memos, university newspapers, the WSJ, Business Week and Newsweek, and I took copious notes at any meeting to review later. (Remember that this was the time before computers and the Internet!) I quickly understood that building a career in academia in America required achieving certain goals, so every year I set myself a Plan for the Year. This led to consistent progression through tenure track and a precious sense of accomplishment.
In later years, after becoming a Full Professor and President of the Faculty Senate at Saint Louis University, I decided to look outside my home institution to concentrate on professional service. As the only woman, and a young one at that, I decided that the best way to serve was to volunteer for positions that involved work behind the scenes. For example, I volunteered to run the AIB Placement Service single-handedly for three years before handing over to colleagues in the IB Department at Saint Louis University who continue this service with great success.
This strategy of service gave me a ‘foot in the door’ and got my name and face known in many different forums. Slowly but surely, I worked my way up to leadership positions. One position of which I am very proud was first elected president of WAIB (Women in the Academy of International Business). I was also elected to the Board or named as a Fellow in professional associations in Marketing, Latin American Studies, and Case Writing. These accolades were a source of great satisfaction insofar as hard work and persistence really do pay off.
So I conclude that being alone throughout my career, as a function of my gender and generation, was difficult and lonely but forced me to stand on my own feet, learn the system, and not hesitate to step forward to serve.
Could you tell us about your experiences over the years as a female academic? What were the key challenges you faced? How did you deal with them? What were your key learning points?
My academic career has been colored by my dual roles as wife and mother, as well as female academic. Balancing work and family was always a challenge, but priority in use of time always went to my daughter. As naturalized US Citizens, my husband and I decided to settle in St. Louis so that our daughter would have the benefit of a full American school career in a single school district, without disruptive moves. We did however visit Bahrain for a semester when I was named a Senior Fulbright Scholar. My daughter enjoyed the experience but never quite understood why she didn’t have a personal driver like the other kids; I had to explain that they were members of the royal family.
One of the practical life challenges over the years was babysitting, so I always took my daughter with me to conferences. At that time, my male colleagues would bring their wives and children to the conference, so I arranged with friends for reciprocal babysitting. My daughter grew up thinking that all kids went to conferences.
In terms of learning to cope, it was always a question of creative thinking, finding the right solution to the right problem at the right time, and never giving up. As I told myself, “Opportunity only knocks once,” so I was always ready for something new and different.
Have any of those challenges remained? Do you observe new challenges that the new generation of female scholars is facing? Do you have any advice for early and mid career female scholars?
The challenges that I faced in trying to manage a work-life balance are perennial for women scholars. Sadly, some of my early PhD students said that they would wait “until after tenure” to start a family. I found that to be a risky proposition and tried to persuade them that “life is for living, not postponing.” I hope that this belief is no longer current among junior women scholars because, as we learn in life, “it’s never a good time to get pregnant!”
It seems to me, as an Emerita now observing academia from a distance, that a key challenge for junior women scholars is the problem of numbers. There are now so many outstanding women scholars coming from all parts of the world that competition for everything – jobs, funding, awards, publications, etc. – is so much more stressful. Being the only woman served me, I see now to some degree, because Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity laws in the US in the 1980s and 90s required department chairs to include a representative female in many activities. It was always an opportunity for me to learn even though the net result was a lot of meetings on my calendar.
The only advice I can offer to early and mid-career female scholars is “Be true to yourself, your principles, and your values, and always deliver what you promise.” After all, the only thing we own is our name, and respect for our name is quintessential in academia.
On a more intimate note, in mid-career I began to distinguish between real crises and minor annoyances. I always told my PhD students – “I can choose when to panic,” and this is not a panic situation. It seemed to help them in times of stress, especially when we sat down and worked out a plan of action.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self? Are there things you would do differently?
This is a really difficult question for me to answer because one of my (many) mottos that I developed during my life in academia was never to regret something. This meant that I always accepted when offered an opportunity, and I always did the best I could so that I wouldn’t look back and feel that I could have worked harder.
Of course, there are things that could have been done differently but hindsight is 20:20.
In global terms, I am grateful to all those friends and colleagues, men and women, who have shown me kindness and friendship and taken the time to teach me something. I have tried to do the same.
Lyn S. AMINE,
Professor Emerita of Marketing and International Business, Saint Louis University