#WomensHistoryMonth Highlight: Kristen Eck

As we continue Women’s History Month, we are proud to highlight #DragonBrass staff member, Kristen Eck!

“I’ve thought about my role as a woman in the activity quite a bit over the years, especially in light of some more recent efforts to build equity and diversity across membership, judges, instructional, administrative, & support staff. Here’s where I’ve landed today:

Where I see some individual efforts to be conscious of these things activity-wide, so many have missed the mark in terms of meaningful action. Look at our roles in every level of the activity from a bird’s eye view: what do these people look like? The history of this activity isn’t perfect, because people aren’t perfect. But the words of Dr. Maya Angelou ring in my brain: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Are we really creating systems that allow for people of all types, all backgrounds, all walks of life, to become valuable members and leaders of this community? You can say all day you’re hiring or placing the most qualified candidates but until you ask yourself WHY they seem the most qualified (or maybe even look so on paper!), the cycle continues. What opportunities did they get early on that someone else didn’t? How can we create opportunities from our position, to help bridge the gap? This applies to women of course, but also ALL under-represented communities in the activity.

This starts first at the membership level- are we giving women the same opportunities as men in the activity? It can be very subtle like moving women to a “more female” instrument or role, or not considering them for leadership because “the rest of the section (all boys) wouldn’t view them the same way.” Or worse, placing them in key positions then undermining their ability to do their job or grow into a different version of leadership than we’re accustomed to? Is it really that these students can’t be viewed in or exceptional in these roles? Or have we just not seen women in those roles enough, so the default is to push them to where WE feel comfortable? How do we speak of our female membership behind closed doors or “with the boys?” How do we actively support women so they can do their jobs, while also being the most authentic versions of themselves? These are small things that are actually huge, & have a ripple effect over decades. And this becomes much more evident for women in staff environments as well. I’ve been lucky to surround myself with quality humans these days that squash these subtle biases & behaviors, with or without me having to prompt them to do so. Best believe I do the same for them too.

Personally, I’ve always held myself to a higher standard than anyone around me. That’s part of my competitive spirit & it’s served me well over the years. But that’s a double-edged sword though, right? At times it helps push us to greater versions of ourselves, and other times it makes us work differently to have the same respect & considerations as our peers. I’ve decided that the integrity in what I do performance-wise & for my students supersedes any of that. 

I am fully aware that there are some places that would hire me simply because I am a woman and it helps them check a box for the masses to say SEE THEY’RE TRYING, GOLD STARS. But I don’t want to be the performative promotion, hire, or seek to be the token anything. I also won’t be dumb & turn down opportunities that fit my version of growth. I’m beyond grateful for the folks that have opened doors for me along the way. Ultimately, I want to be surrounded by people that value the integrity of my work, my perspective, & collaborate openly with EVERYONE on the team, regardless of what they look like or how it looks on paper. And I encourage that also with every student I work with, every colleague I work with, and I will continue opening doors for all people around me that are interested in becoming kind, inclusive, open-minded, open-hearted, game-changing performers, leaders, & professionals wherever they land. PERIOD.

I want women in this activity to know that we have to be willing to see ourselves exceed in roles that may look different than anyone that has held them before, and be willing to learn as you go if need be. You’ll never truly be ready to jump in to unfamiliar territory, but DO IT ANYWAY. We are not valuable contributors to our field just as THE female in the section/on staff/in the room/on the panel. We are ASSETS in our field because of what we bring to the table in our skills, work ethic, intelligence, and our unique perspective that is needed for many students and professionals throughout this activity.

The next level of this of course is instead of waiting to be invited in to the rooms where “important things happen,” to start creating these rooms instead. I learned that from my good friends Rick & Bryen here at the Mandarins. We each choose to do that & the sky is the limit in terms of our positive influence on the world around us. And that’s about the best a girl could ask for.”

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