Nancy Rapoport on “Being a ‘First’ – Over and Over Again”

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Nancy B. Rapoport (UNLV) has posted to SSRN her essay from Denver Law Review Forum, Being a “First” – Over and Over Again. Here is an excerpt:

Being a nonfounder “first” also means that people will compare your leadership style to those who came before youand not always in the way that you might think. Often, new academic leaders are chosen for their ability to take an institution in a certain, previously defined direction. Maybe it’s the same direction in which the last leader also chose to go, or maybe there’s a new leader in place because the institution wants to change course. But people watching a new “first” begin her job tend to think, “oh, she does X or Y because she’s a woman,” not “oh, she does X or Y in a way different from her predecessor because they are different people (or because the institution needs to take a different tack).”

Part of being a “first, then, is recognizing that people are learning who you are based only in part on you. In part, they’re learning who you are by learning who and what you’re not. You’re basically “not the guy who came before you.” You might not be that guy because that guy was good at certain tasks, and you’re good at different ones. You might not be that guy because the institution’s needs have changed. * * * *[B]eing a “first” as a dean or a provost involved meshing some stereotypically feminine approaches with some stereotypically masculine ones.

The full essay is available here.

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