The Vitae Bookshelf: Peggy Delmas

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In a continuing series, Vitae asks academics, administrators, and Ph.D.s in the nonacademic world to pick the five books that most influenced them in some aspect of their work, professional life, and career — and why. Next up: Peggy Delmas, an assistant professor of leadership and teacher education at the University of South Alabama, picks her five favorite books that focus on gender, leadership, or the intersection of the two.


For me, the following five books represent the most reflective and soul-searching works out there on the topic of being — both singly and in combination — a woman and a leader.

Bad FeministBad Feminist
By Roxane Gay

This is a book I return to time and time again when I need a dose of humor and plain-spoken truth about the difficulties of being a feminist while also being true to oneself. In a collection of essays, Roxane Gay lays bare for the reader her very personal struggle to come to terms with feminism. That struggle includes conflict, fear, guilt, doubt, anger, shame, irony, and humor. It is as "raw" and "messy" as she candidly acknowledges it to be. Gay's honest, insightful writing shows us how — despite imperfections, or perhaps because of them — one woman can become a leader with whom others can identify and follow.

Half the SkyHalf the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
By Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Half the Sky was my university's selection for our first common reading program. It ignited a fire in me. On reading it, I, like many of our students and faculty, felt shock, outrage, and anger over the injustices suffered by women and girls around the world. But with those emotions came a growing awareness and appreciation for the girls and women who were making positive change in these unacceptable circumstances, by becoming outspoken advocates and leaders in their villages, states, provinces, and countries. And finally, I felt a grim determination to add my voice, action, and efforts to lift women up and to empower them. Half the Sky is not an easy read. In fact, several colleagues confided to me that they'd had to put it aside. Admittedly, female genital mutilation, honor killings, and obstetric fistulas do not make for light reading. However, the brutal truths of this book make it a fundamentally necessary read.

Women in the AcademyWomen in the Academy: Learning from Our Diverse Career Pathways
Edited by Nichola D. Gutgold and Angela R. Linse

I love reading about other peoples' journeys in life -- how they came to be where they are geographically, spiritually, politically, and vocationally. Women in the Academy tells the stories of women who hold positions of power in higher education, from faculty to administrators to presidents. The editors conceived of the book as a "text-based mentor" to guide professional women who do not have the benefit of an actual mentor. Each chapter is the story of a mentor/leader told by the woman who experienced it, ending with a valuable "lessons learned" section. Chapter 2 in particular — with very forthright advice from psychology professor Bette L. Bottoms about avoiding potential academic career and leadership pitfalls — is eye-opening.

Outsiders in the Sacred GroveWomen in Academe: Outsiders in the Sacred Grove
By Nadya Aisenberg and Mona Harrington

Outsiders is a seminal text for many scholars, including myself, who study gender and leadership in higher education. Arising from the authors' desire to understand the "deflection" of women from expected academic career paths, the book — through the interviews of more than 60 participants — captures the conflicts that women experience on the tenure track. The book seeks to answer such questions as, "How do you play the game when you don't know the rules?" and "How do you attain work/life balance?" The book was published in 1988 (the same year I graduated high school) but, read today, it illustrates how some things remain frustratingly the same for women in higher education.

Through the LabyrinthThrough the Labyrinth: The Truth About How Women Become Leaders
By Alice H. Eagly and Linda L. Carli

Eagly and Carli use the metaphor of the labyrinth to represent women's indirect, circuitous, and sometimes torturous path to leadership. They combine social-science research on gender and leadership with real-life examples to evaluate restrictions on — and prejudices against — women as leaders. Each chapter in the book focuses on a conundrum of gendered leadership, such as "Do women lead differently from men?" and "Do people resist women's leadership?" Read in the wake of the recent presidential election, the authors' work seems prescient: Will women continue to attain leadership roles? Yes. Will that attainment be straightforward? Decidedly not.

Got a booklist to share? Send it to editorial_at_chroniclevitae_dot_com. List your 5 favorite books in your field or in some other category — and tell us in a few sentences why you would recommend them — and we will consider your booklist for publication.

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