Wisconsin Woman Magazine September 2008©
Pat Alea: Empowering women
By Amanda N. Wegner
“My husband calls me a ‘truth and justice’ person … one who believes often against the odds that everything can and will get better. I call myself a ‘pragmatic utopian.’ I want to know the best possible vision, know where we stand at the moment and I will then, usually in partnership with many talented others, find a way to get from here to there!” And every day, whether it was balancing her career with providing care for her out-of-state mother who recently passed away, coaching the likes of Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton and state Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster, consulting with major organizations and corporations, or finding harmony in her backyard garden, Alea continues to get “from here to there.”
Moving with the movement
“My work with women,” says Alea, “is largely an accident of my age.” Growing up in the 1960s, with Title IX, legislation to address domestic violence and sexual assault, and women ascending on the workforce in droves, Alea found her niche. “As soon as a women’s movement began
to move, I was there!” Now, nearly 50 years later, women have a greater place in society, thanks to women like Alea. For those of the younger generations who’ve grown up with relative freedom of choice, economic power and the like, imagining how women’s roles have evolved is a tough exercise. “My daughters still marvel at a world that only a few decades ago now seems like Jurassic Park in relation to women’s roles,” says Alea.
And the work is not done.
While Alea she says she is “humbled” by men proudly standing side-by-side with women, championing equality of the female gender, both men and women need to get on board to affect lasting change. And women need to realize this isn’t a perfect world for them either.
“On a related note, I try to have patience with women who don’t acknowledge the need to address issues of gender equity,” says Alea “[Such as] women who feel that if they’ve made it, [so] other women should be able to do the same. Without the advocacy of those who have succeeded, we lose heart. When men disappoint us, we lose faith in them. When women disappoint us, we lose hope. It may seem unfair, but if we don’t speak for ourselves and enlist the men who want us to succeed, if we don’t take a strong initiative, we will never have power. It can’t be given; it must be taken authentically."
Still working for change
Can anyone be a leader? Can anyone affect change?
“I see the capacity for leadership everywhere. What is leadership but the undiluted will to make something important happen and to enlist others to help?”
But intention and will are easily diluted, especially for women, by the many roles played. There is usually something more or equally as pressing to tend to, be it a sick child, financial responsibilities or time constraints.
“Most women today face both internal and external barriers in pursuing their dreams. It’s important to know which is which,” says Alea. Part of Alea’s job as a consultant is helping clients recognize and challenge these barriers. From it, she’s developed a strong list of leaders who are not only clients, but friends, including Lawton, Burmaster, UW Police Chief Sue Riseling, Tammy Thayer, president of the UW School of Business Center for Advanced Studies in business, and other outstanding women.
“I have been fortunate to work with many of the women who are not only leading our best institutions, but who are addressing institutional change to include women and others who have been sidelined in our culture. I am always eager to understand the unique vision such leaders have crafted. … I have wonderful ongoing relationships with these and dozens of other women with whom I’ve collaborated. The personal friendships are an amazing bonus, and I feel I can call on them when I’m working through a tough problem and need support.” She adds: “The common characteristic I admire in each of these women is courage; an absolute unwillingness to speak anything but the truth.”
Dismantling the chaos
Alea is proof-positive that a career and life can be driven by what someone loves and is passionate about. In fact, she authored a book, The Best Work of your Life, several years ago, on this same topic. So what if we all decided to dedicate ourselves to what we love and long to do?
“I would predict that we would find less than six degrees of separation. I suspect that we would almost effortlessly form collaborations, rich partnerships and inspiration from one another. I am certain we would form natural and diverse communities as we shared goals and activities.”
In fact, this is happening every day. Alea notes that she frequently talks with clients about the importance of living the proverbial “self-examined life” and how important it is to reflect, re-integrate and maintain professional momentum based on the values we hold and want to honor.
“I’m not sure if we’re hampered by ‘excuses’ as much as the increased chaos of our daily lives. Living with passion and being fascinated by our own lives shouldn’t seem like a fantasy. Maybe we need just a conscious dismantling of chaos.”