‘Progressive’ Rider marks gender studies milestone

Tiffani Lennon, ‘97, addressed a packed house about her findings regarding women in leadership.

By Casey Gale

This year marks Rider’s 35th year offering gender and sexuality studies. Students, faculty, staff, members of the Women’s Leadership Council and alumni came together on Nov. 20 to mark the anniversary and celebrate the program’s achievements.

One such alumna was Tiffani Lennon, ’97, who paid a visit to her alma mater as keynote speaker of the night. She discussed the findings in her new book, Recognizing Women’s Leadership: Strategies and Best Practices for Employing Excellence. 

“It’s a bit of a reference book and a bit of a best-practices book,” she said. “What we did was look at women, where they sit in leadership roles across 14 major sectors in the United States. We looked at thousands of positions, hundreds of companies. We looked at their salaries as they compare to male salaries, and we looked at their performance — how well their performance compared to their male counterparts.”

Her discussion included examining the wage discrepancy between men and women in the music industry and the inequality in funding for female politicians, finding that women were paid much less than their male contemporaries, even when they performed better at their job.

Lennon, once an attorney in the United States and United Kingdom and now chair of law and society at the Colorado Women’s College of the University of Denver, said her foundations at Rider set her on the path toward furthering her education to become an attorney.

“I feel that my education at Rider really prepared me well to continue my studies,” she said. “I did a post-graduate, post-doctoral degree at the University of London, which is one of the top 3 percent of universities in the world, and I really believe that it was the small educational environment here. [Revisiting Rider] has really made me reflect on my undergraduate education and having it be such a campus, and what a privilege that is.”

Her law career, she said, opened her eyes to issues in women’s equality worldwide, and partially inspired her research.

“I did a lot of international work and I was a civil rights attorney,” she said. “You can’t do international work without dealing with very pressing issues that are unique to women, so that’s how it started.”

After spending so much time in higher education, Lennon said she was pleased to see all that Rider has accomplished with its gender and sexuality studies program.

“I’m honored and privileged to even be asked to be part of it,” she said prior to her speech. “Thirty-five years is actually a really long time to have a gender and sexuality program. Even the name of the program here at Rider is the appropriate name. Rider, in many ways, is very progressive in its approach.”

Jessica Vento, a senior public relations major and Women’s Leadership Council protégé, felt the keynote speech was a powerful way to mark the anniversary and inspire women.

“I think the fact that we’re graduating soon, which is crazy, makes it nice to have that type of role model here telling us what it’s going to be like out in the workforce,” she said.

In addition to Lennon’s keynote speech, the evening also focused on the history of gender studies at Rider in a presentation by history professor Dr. Erica Ryan. The program’s founder, the late Dr. Virginia J. Cyrus, was awarded a Sesquicentennial Medal of Excellence, recognizing her efforts to create the original women’s studies program at Rider in 1979.  Her daughter Cynthia Cyrus accepted the award.

“This would have been a very special moment for Mom,” said Cyrus. “She’d enjoy so much the kind of energy we’ve seen tonight. I think this is a most fitting occasion.”

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