For many years, women have been underrepresented in all leadership positions, including academia. At the University of Florida, there are 22 deans and 11 are female, by all accounts a great representation of female leadership. The Business Report sits down with Diane McFarlin, Dean of the UF College of Journalism and Communications to discuss her insights and path taken thus far.
A UF alum herself, Dean McFarlin received her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1976. She became dean of the College in January 2013. After graduating from college and beginning her career as a reporter for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, she eventually became managing editor at 30. McFarlin served as executive editor of the Gainesville Sun before returning to Sarasota Herald-Tribune to be executive editor and then publisher.
“I moved into newsroom leadership roles at a time when there weren’t many women to emulate so I figured it out as I went. Fortunately, I chose to build on my strengths as a woman, rather than try to adopt behaviors and approaches that worked for men,” McFarlin said. “Doing so would not have fit me well as a young woman in her 20s and 30s taking on leadership positions in places where few women had tread.”
“Back when I was building my news career, I don’t think I had a full understanding of gender bias. The silver lining was that I was not highly sensitized to it and didn’t allow it to undermine my sense of confidence.”
Since returning to her alma mater as dean, McFarlin has expanded the college’s interdisciplinary programs, built a strategic framework for the College’s direction, increased research productivity and funding and has made top faculty hires. She also spearheaded the launch of The Agency, a strategic communications agency run by students to give them real-world experiences with clients and communication.
In her career, McFarlin has seen the proliferation of female leadership and believes that business owners are understanding the importance of diversity of thought and perspectives.
“Since women represent half of the world’s population, their perspective is key to the success of any venture. That wasn’t fully appreciated when I started my career, and it’s still not appreciated enough in certain sectors.”
Seventy five percent of her college’s student enrollment are women so it’s important that she serves as a positive role model for them, McFarlin says.
“With the force of history behind them, women are more confident in their roles and better at navigating the workplace today than they were 40 years ago. They are no longer “exceptions,” but have demonstrated that women can take on any role and do it well. Our students have so many more women leaders to emulate today, so what they are seeking are best practices and guiding principles, not survival techniques.”
Advice for Future Leaders
Dean McFarlin offered some key words of advice for women looking to become leaders in their fields.
- Lead by the “Golden Rule.” It’s the best way to build constructive relationships with colleagues and it will always guide you to the right decisions.
- Base all decisions on shared values and principles. This will help engender a sense of acceptance and understanding on the part of everyone affected.
- Capitalize on your empathetic tendencies, which will enable to you to be an intuitive leader.
- Raise your hand when the bosses are seeking a volunteer for a challenging responsibility. The most transformative experiences in my career were ones that stretched me beyond my comfort zone.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate—even if you feel silly repeating the same thing over and over. The truth is, you can never communicate too much.
By Tracy Wright