LaToya Eff: Cultivating Women Leaders in Higher Education

Sometimes people are inspired to action by role models they admire. And other times, people are driven by a desire to create something that isn’t yet there. LaToya was one of these latter people. In her professional life, she had worked with a series of women in positions of power who just didn’t seem to get it. To them, another woman’s success was a threat to her own. They were combative instead of collaborative. This dynamic frustrated LaToya, and she was determined to counteract that force by doing the best she could to support the women around her.

LaToya graduated from John Carroll University in Ohio, with a major in Sociology. During her studies, she had aspired to be a social worker, but when she spent the year after graduation doing case work, she realized the emotional intensity of the work was not something she could sustain. So without a house, a connection, or a plan, she packed up her car and moved to Georgia to try something new. It was there that she found her place at a student housing contracting company. The national company meant that she would have opportunities to work at different campuses across the country and to explore various aspects of student housing.

Now working for COCM at Johns Hopkins University, LaToya has become more diligent in her women’s empowerment mission. She started in small ways—offering to read other women’s resumes or to help with various tasks. When some other women in the company, including her mentor, got involved in the Women’s Leadership Institute (a program for women in higher education), they decided to create their own women’s group within the company. When they opened up the group to women not directly involved in WLI, LaToya jumped at the opportunity.

The group started out as a place where women could get together to to discuss women-focused issues in a community of support and inspiration. Recently, though, they have been transitioning into an action-focused group—the COCM Women’s Initiative. One of their primary motivations is to inform and educate. Everyone should leave the meetings knowing something they didn’t know before. They have recently been focusing on issues in the company that have a particular effect on the women employed there, such as parental and sick leave.

For LaToya, the most fulfilling (and occasionally challenging) aspect of the work is being exposed to so many different mindsets and experiences. Because the company is a national one, their Women’s Initiative has members across the country. There are women from many races, faiths, and geographies. Everyone has a different lens through which they see the world. LaToya says the environment is such that everyone is able to share their unique perspective, which can be very enlightening. And sometimes uncomfortable. Having your preconceived notions about life challenged is always uncomfortable, but LaToya says it has resulted in significant personal growth and strong friendships.

Are you a woman seeking mentorship or a more supportive environment for women in your workplace? LaToya's advice is to be the change you're seeking--and to actively seek out what you're missing! Women tend to stay quiet; we're taught to believe that needing help is a sign of weakness. In fact, it's the opposite. Seeking out the help you need makes you stronger. So stop hoping that a wise woman will walk up to you and offer to guide you through your work world. Seek her out! And, whether you realize it or not, you have unique strengths and experiences that make you a valuable resource to the women around you. Reach out to those that you can help. Be that magical mentor who waltzes into someone's life. Offer to help. Communicate and connect.

In the coming months, LaToya hopes to help the Women’s Initiative focus on actionable goals. She wants the group to be able to make concrete targets and take real steps toward achieving them. In her own life, she plans to focus her energy on self-branding. She hopes to refine her online identity into one cohesive narrative. While much of her professional energy is focused on bringing together ambitious women, LaToya spends her free time exploring the culinary world of Baltimore! With friends, she maintains an Instagram dedicated to the food and drink one can find in the area. You can follow her reviews of these experiences on her Yelp account.

Are you a woman working in higher ed? Can you relate to LaToya's need to create a supportive environment for women? Please share your thoughts and experiences below. I'd love to hear your perspectives and what you took away from LaToya's story.