Learning to trust your instincts
Yolanda Zepeda, assistant provost of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, advocates for fellow Latinas and other underrepresented groups on campus.
Yolanda Zepeda, a 2016 Ohio State Glass Breaker, believes in listening to different perspectives and then trusting — and owning — her decisions because they are guided by her own values and perspectives.
This year, the President and Provost’s Council on Women recognizes five faculty and staff members whose efforts have improved workplace culture for women at Ohio State: They are Ohio State Glass Breakers.
Buckeye Voices presents question-and-answer interviews with each extraordinary honoree. Yolanda Zepeda, assistant provost of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, works to ensure that fellow Latinas — and other underrepresented groups on campus — have an opportunity for success. At Ohio State, she has advocated for programs for women of color in scientific and technical fields. Recently, she has trained search committees as they seek to hire diverse researchers.
Q. What advice do you have for other women seeking leadership roles? Have you faced any challenges or bypassed any obstacles?
A. Listen carefully, and then trust your gut. That’s the advice I offer to women seeking leadership roles. As women rise through the ranks, we are increasingly likely to find ourselves in settings where we see things differently from our colleagues.
I recently revealed to a colleague the frustration I felt when I met with a particular group because invariably my views departed from the consensus of the group, and I therefore questioned the value of my involvement. My colleague reminded me that my perspective was valuable precisely because it added another dimension of understanding.
Women tend to lead through consensus, so when our views conflict with those around us, it can be discomforting. We may be tempted to second-guess ourselves. It is in these moments that we should be honest about who we are and what we think. It takes courage, but when I am confident and open, in my experience, these moments of conflict lead to better outcomes.
So where do we find that confidence? I once had a professor who declared to a very disgruntled class that statistical analysis couldn’t be taught, but insisted that it had to be instinctual. After I got over my indignation, I actually learned a lot in that class, including the very important lesson that I needed to ask a lot of questions and I needed to practice, fail, and practice more. Eventually, I acquired enough knowledge to develop some intuitive understanding.
In any leadership role, it is important that I trust my intuition, my gut instincts. But, to do so, I must develop my intuitive understanding. That means asking a lot of questions and seeking counsel of experts. Those experts might be subordinates or they might be colleagues whose views clash with my own. I try to listen to different perspectives, and then trust — and own — my decisions knowing they are guided by my own values and perspectives.
Q. What tips would you give to women — especially those in underrepresented groups — to advocate for themselves in scientific and technical fields?
A. Women from underrepresented groups make up just over 3 percent of STEM faculty at four-year institutions. Their presence shrinks at higher ranks. There is growing documentation of the race and gender gaps that arise at the point of academic hiring, promotion and tenure, and in publishing and salaries.
We also know that women, and especially women of color, face high demands for community service, insufficient social support and ongoing climate issues. I want to emphasize that we cannot put the burden of inclusion on the shoulders of women. We all have a responsibility, especially those in senior leadership positions, to support the full participation of all members of our community.
I encourage women of color to cultivate networks of support. It is important to seek out senior colleagues both within their units/institution and external, who can advise their professional growth and who can advocate for their success. It also is important to make time to engage in activities that nurture their social and personal well-being.
Q. What’s next for you?
A. Over the past couple of years, I have worked closely with a colleague on ways to support Latino student success at Ohio State. Through our conversations, we decided that we needed to carve out some space for thinking beyond the boundaries of our current roles.
We have committed to meeting for periodic “mini-retreats” where we will spend a day brainstorming about Latino education needs, best practices and opportunities. I am looking forward to our first session later this summer.
Read more about Yolanda Zepeda's career path to the leadership position she holds.