Having nerve and hitting nerves

Two leaders in Canada’s academic community are telling what it was like to be the first women to become university presidents. Dr. Martha Piper was president of the University of British Columbia from 1997 to 2006, and vice-chancellor in 2015 and 2016; Dr. Indira Samarasekera was president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta from 2005 to 2015. Their just released book called Nerve: Lessons on Leadership from Two Women Who Went First, doesn’t dish much about low-stakes politics and dirty tricks in the hallowed halls.

But they don’t hold back when describing the frustration of trying to bring about transformative change in a place that celebrates fraught collegial decision-making and exalts stasis. They admit that women’s highly touted people and relationship skills can be a blessing but also a curse, often “standing in our way as we continuously struggled to manage our teams.” They frequently pose the question of whether they would be treated the same if men. The book’s apt title speaks to what they think is needed for women to succeed. And these two celebrated trailblazers leave no doubt that hit a few nerves themselves merely by leading while women.


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