Dr. Wanda Costen brings a depth of experience and expertise to her role as Dean, School of Business at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Her teaching expertise extends to areas including strategy, human resources, organizational behavior, law and diversity. Also, her research interests encompass racial and gender inequality in organizations, women and leadership, strategic human resources, managing diversity, and ethnic minority student experiences.
Dr. Costen earned her PhD from Washington State University and an Executive MBA from Pepperdine University. She completed her undergraduate degree at the United States Military Academy at West Point. During the 2013/14 academic year she served as a Fulbright Scholar with the University of the West Indies – Mona, in Kingston, Jamaica.
Dr. Costen is a HERS Leadership Institute Alumna from 2019. We asked Dr. Costen to share her thoughts of how her experience at HERS has helped shape her career and lead during a crisis.
What do you value most from your HERS Leadership Institute Experience?
For me what I value most is the wonderful social network of successful, intelligent women colleagues. Second are some of the tools related to not taking things personally, recognizing the landscape for women, especially women of color, in leadership, and realizing the significance of self-care.
How was the HERS experience different than other leadership development organizations (or activities) you’ve participated in?
I think the critical component is the in-residency, which meant we had the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships with other participants. It also facilitated deeper conversations about a variety of topics, and the opportunity to see how different types of institutions operate. I really like the practical approach in providing actionable information that could be immediately implemented upon our return to campus. Finally, the faculty is comprised of people who share their personal experiences, in addition to being experts in their fields.
How has attending the HERS Leadership Institute impacted your ability to lead during a crisis?
While I’ve typically had quite a bit of confidence in my abilities, my HERS experience ensured that I KNOW I’m good at my job, and I KNOW that I am thoughtful, compassionate, and strive to make the best data-informed decisions possible. I lessened my doubt. I KNOW I can do this!
How did HERS impact your leadership trajectory?
Thanks to HERS, especially my HERS sisters, I believe I have the competencies & skills, in addition to the passion, to be an effective executive leader. As a result of my HERS experience, I’ve applied for Provost, & even Presidential positions at small colleges. Nancy Martin’s coaching to help frame cover letters, CVs, and how to position oneself as a viable candidate for these positions has been invaluable. I have now engaged with several recruiters, and search firms who believe I have what it takes to be an executive leader; I just have to find the right place.
What is your personal leadership style?
I’ve always been characterized as an energetic and passionate leader.
My personal leadership style was grounded in my West Point & military experience in that I believe in honesty & integrity, in addition to transparency. My 10 years of business experience helped me hone my willingness to hold myself, & others accountable to high standards, and a commitment to delivering on KPIs. I prefer a consensus approach to decision-making, which means I seek others perspectives and strive to reach decisions that advance the unit, and are best for the greater good.
Additionally, my goal as an academic leader is always to create an inclusive, meaningful learning experience to provide people the competencies they need to have a positive impact on their communities. As a first generate college graduate, I’m acutely aware of the impact of education not just on students, but also on their families.
What advice would you give to a woman in higher education who wants to advance their career, particularly in times of uncertainty?
First & foremost, know who you are, & be true to yourself.
My military & business experience indicate that times of crises reveal people’s true nature, and organizations need people who can stay calm in the midst of the storm. Virtual meetings provide a unique opportunity to side-step some of the undermining, and lessening that happens in F2F meetings. Organizations are now pivoting so quickly they need people who can come up with high quality recommendations & ideas, who can also implement decisions quickly. Being around the table is critical, & now is a great opportunity to show how you can help the institution ensure its sustainability, and perhaps even advance in new ways.
Finally, as COVID-19 is teaching us, I’ve always focused on what’s essential & what do students really need to know to be the next generation of world leaders? It’s not just functional expertise, and technical skills, it’s also about understanding different cultures, perspectives, and how to work with others; treating them with dignity & respect.