UNC Charlotte boasts many female administrators, from founder Bonnie Cone to today's five female academic college deans. For Women's History Month, the Niner Times sat down with Chancellor Sharon Gaber, Dean of Students Christine Davis and Dean Jennifer Troyer to discuss their hobbies, gender discrimination in the workplace and advice for young women.
Chancellor Sharon Gaber has served as UNC Charlotte's fifth chancellor since July 2020. She is the second woman to lead the institution (after founder Bonnie Cone) and the first woman to serve as chancellor. Before UNC Charlotte, she served as president of the University of Toledo for five years and as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Arkansas for six. Education Drive named her "one of five higher education leaders to watch in 2018 and beyond."
Dean Christine Davis has served as the Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students since 2013. She works closely with students, overseeing programs like Identity, Equity and Inclusion, New Student and Family Services, Student Assistance and Support Services, Student Conduct & Academic Integrity and Veterans Services. She has been with the University in various roles since 1997 and recently graduated from the UNC Charlotte Educational Leadership doctoral program.
Dean Jennifer Troyer has served as the seventh dean of the Belk College of Business since July 2020 and served in various leadership roles in the Business School for the past 20 years. Her research focuses on health economics and has won several awards and received funding from the National Institute of Health.
The following transcript has been edited and condensed.
What are some of your hobbies?
Gaber: I enjoy walking my dog, Augie, and spending time with my family. Additionally, I enjoy tennis, travel and music.
Davis: Recently, over the past year, I have taken up a spinning class, so I own a Peloton. I ride my bike that goes nowhere almost every day. I also love reading, cooking and traveling. Over the past, let's say, five years or so, traveling has been difficult because I have been finishing my doctoral program, which I finished this past fall. And then, of course, from a COVID-19 perspective, there hasn't been a whole lot of traveling going on. Taking day trips, visiting different states within the country, exploring history and just hanging out at the beach.
Troyer: I enjoy reading (mostly non-fiction), hiking (trails within a couple of hours of Charlotte), and practicing yoga (for 20+ years).
What do you like about your job?
Gaber: I like being the Chancellor at UNC Charlotte because this University, in particular, has the ability to change students' lives. My goal is to continue to make UNC Charlotte accessible and continue to increase the value of our students’/alums' degrees.
Davis: I love the fact that it is different every day. My calendar is just a suggestion of what might happen during my day. At any point during the day, an email could come through, or a crisis happens that I need to manage, or an opportunity presents itself that I get to connect with students or faculty or staff on campus. It is never boring, for sure. And I especially love the relationships I get to build and how I get to connect with students, faculty and staff members on campus.
Troyer: Being a dean is one of the best jobs on campus. As Dean, my key job is to help guide our faculty and staff in staying focused on our vision, which is to be a leading urban research business school and help secure the resources needed to move us closer to achieving that vision. As part of our mission, we are working to have excellent undergraduate and graduate programs. We are working to produce research relevant to business and policymakers. We are engaged with the business community, and we promote the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Have you ever experienced gender discrimination in the workplace?
Gaber: I was the only female faculty member in my department for the first 11 years of my academic career. I was not discriminated against, but I wound up working very hard because nearly every committee needed some diversity and I was the gender diversity in that department. In the end, this helped prepare me to become the department chair which began my career into academic administration.
Davis: You know, I have been thinking a lot about this lately. I don't think that it's been overt gender discrimination, but I have experienced some more subtle discriminatory incidents over the years. I have been asked to be the note taker in meetings where I'm the only woman. I've been asked to follow up on things because perhaps I was the only woman, or I could come at it from a maternal or soft feminine kind of approach. I have been asked to do things or to be in spaces where there have been only women. So, there's never been anything that I have experienced that has been specifically biased because of my gender. When I was the director of Student Conduct, I got a couple of comments from some lawyers that I was interacting with that they were surprised that I was as good at my job being a conduct officer since I was a woman. And so, more subtle kinds of comments than any overt types of bias or discrimination.
Troyer: As far as I know, I have not experienced what I would characterize as gender discrimination, but I have experienced microaggressions in my profession, and I know of many women who have experienced gender discrimination. My early career training was in economics, which is a discipline that is still working to eliminate the gender gap and instances of gender discrimination.
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
Gaber: Treat people well. Our people—students, faculty and staff—are what makes our University great.
Davis: Trust your gut. Many of the things that I think about and process include trusting my gut because I feel like there is some value to that very instinctive feeling you get about a certain decision. I think that, in general, women aren't encouraged to trust their gut because we have grown up in a very male-dominated society, which espouses hard and fast data from a decision-making perspective. And I think a good leader balances that data with some emotion and some gut instincts.
Troyer: I have a long list, but one of the ones that stand out is advice from my dad, who said, "If you never fail, you don't know your limits or potential."
What advice would you give young women entering the workforce?
Gaber: Be willing to take a risk or an opportunity when it is presented. They don't come along every day. Sometimes risks and/or opportunities throw people out of their rhythm, and they pass them up. In general, when presented with an opportunity, it means that someone saw something special in you. Explore the opportunity to learn if it might be something worth pursuing.
Davis: I would advise them to explore–not to feel like they have to be boxed into one skill set or one type of position, but to really feel empowered to explore different opportunities. To ask to be placed at the table for conversations instead of sitting to the side and waiting to be invited. Expressing some desire to learn or shadow different people in different positions until you tap into that passion or find that passion through that exploration.
Troyer: Be yourself. Find opportunities to stretch yourself and keep learning. When you fail, take a little time to find the lesson in it and to feel bad and then quickly move on. Grow your network and lean on them.