Posted by: jennaaduvall | October 20, 2016

Woman Leader…& Deaf?

Leaders face many challenges including navigating the labyrinth, the double bind, second generation gender bias, among many other obstacles. Now… let’s throw being deaf into the mix of being a leader.

Roberta Cornado is the current President of Gallaudet University, a predominately deaf, and hear-of -hearing private college located in Washington, D.C. Roberta Cordano is the 11th president of Gallaudet University as of January, 2016. It is said that Cordano is continually recognized for being the “right person at the right time for Gallaudet.” Often times this is attributed to her extensive experience in both traditional and nontraditional settings.

Cordano has been a leader for many institutions including; directing community-based programs for the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation ins Saint Paul, Minnesota. She also excelled in the health care industry for the Center of Healthcare Innovation at Allina Hospital, and entertained a position as Assistant Dean for the Hubert H. Humphery Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Beyond her expertise, she is also passionate about deaf culture. This can be seen through her perseverance as a founding board member for Minnesota North Star Academy, a bilingual and bi-cultural charter high school for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Her accomplishments are impressive at all levels, however when you contemplate the additional commitment of achieving your dreams and aspirations as a deaf woman leader, it generates tremendous respect!

In what ways do you think her leadership styles had to adapt to effectively communicate with people? Do you think that Cordano would have encountered more challenges if she pursued a more agentic career as opposed to health care and teaching?

The reason I chose to write my blog post about Cordano is largely due to taking 2 years of American Sign Language (ASL) in high school. These classes not only taught me crucial vocabulary, and proper sentence structure for sign language, but also, it taught me the importance of deaf culture. My teacher would reiterate again and again that deaf individuals tend to be very motivated and determined in accomplishing their goals. Therefore, my last question I have is… do you think that being deaf either helped or hindered her success as a woman leader?






  1. OMG!!! This is amazing! I absolutely love sign language! I taught a class of kindergarten students sign language for my big senior project in high school. I think it is so fascinating to be able to communicate to one another without using any words. Switched at Birth quickly became one of my favorite shows because of the sign language, and this school is actually apart of the story. How cool! I think Cordan is an amazing leader and absolutely deserves her recognition. It’s not easy to be a female leader in schools, especially while begin deaf. I think the determination and drive that deaf people have to achieve their goals is commendable and should be celebrated. I think her ability to drive others without hearing is just absolutely amazing. She uses what others could see as a disability to her advantage and advancement in her career. Amazing!

  2. I know of very few disabled leaders, besides Stephen Hawking and FDR. Disabilities, similar to sexism, are additional obstacles to leadership. By working at a school for people who struggle with hearing and sight issues, she is leading by example, showing that deaf individuals can achieve positions of power. She most likely cultivates every message that she has said because if her hearing disability. You don’t accidentally sign sentences. There is a consciousness to her communication that the average leader is not required to apply. If simply relaying a message is more effort, you would make careful choices about what you sign. I would say that being deaf gave her a very valuable and specific perspective which probably improved her ability to lead others. She is representing a minority view. Just because of the high paced nature of agentic careers, I doubt they would be as willing to adjust to the needs of the disabled.

  3. I found this blog post very interesting. I do not know much about disabled leaders for I feel they are often left out of the leadership literature. It is very interesting to look at their leadership style. Roberta Cornado is one example of a very talented leader who has succeeded greatly in her field. She is a prime example of leaders we need to study.

    The first question I wanted to look into was Cornado’s communication style. We know from the readings that women have to greatly watch their communication styles. They cannot be too directive or assertive in their speech. Their communication must match the female stereotype of acting nurturing and caring (Eagly & Carli, 2007). However, we are thrown a bone when we look into Cornado’s situation. As a deaf women, Cornado speech is greatly affected and based off multiple factors. She has another barrier she must navigate in the realm of communication. I wonder if Cornado has to follow the female stereotype as closely or if she can stride away from the expectations of the female stereotype for communication. I want to believe that Cornado may be more likely to stride away from the female stereotype more often because other factors in her communication may take precedence. Even though it is wrong, I believe followers often focus more on a disability over gender.

    Lastly, you mention how motivated deaf individuals most be in order to accomplish their goals. I think this aspect greatly helped Cornado’s leadership. She had the internal drive and motivation to reach her goals against all adversity. As Wilson (2007) states, women must have a strong internal drive for leadership because society pushes against them. Women are often punished for their ambition and taught to conceal it (p. 65). However, Cornado had to harness her motivation in order to overcome adversity on multiple levels.


    Eagly, A. H., & Carli, L. L. (2007). Through the labyrinth. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

    Wilson, M. C. (2007). Closing the leadership gap: Add women, change everything. New York City, NY: Penguin Group.

  4. This is so interesting and a topic I wouldn’t have thought about had you not brought this up, so thank you! Your question about any new or different challenges/ how her experience as a leader may be different, I wonder if she had a hard time demonstrating strength and dominance. I wonder because women in general have a hard time being seen as strong and dominant, because they can often be seen as weak and passive, if having a disability like being deaf, would make that even more difficult. I relate this to chivalry, though intentions are good, it can be relatively offensive if it seems like the person who is being helped is made to seem incapable. This happens with women and people with disabilities a lot. So, I wonder if she had to work extra hard to show dominance, considering she is both a woman and someone with a disability. If people were always trying to be nice by doing things for her, but really she was fully capable and wanted to do it herself. I wonder if that kind of kindness undermined her authority and dominance.

  5. While I think there would be many challenges to leading without the use of one of your senses, in this situation it is made easier because a majority of the university has something in common with her, making communication easier because of a shared language. Her achievement to being president of a university is still an impressive feat and demonstrates the strength of Roberta Cordano to lead in a unique setting. So, I think in this situation being deaf helped Cordano succeed in her leadership position considering most of her followers are also deaf. This allows the spread of deaf culture throughout the university to happen more easily.

    In a more masculine business setting, it is hard to determine how such a leader would become acclimated when a common language is harder. What would communication look like in this situation, but I think that many have overcome this difficulty such as Cordano. This shows just how determined and steadfast she is, and has been able to achieve success with a limited key bodily function. Thus, as a woman she has shown how adaptable she is as a woman leader, and that she is a capable problem solver.

  6. I had only heard of Gallaudet University from the television show, Switched at Birth. I am actually surprised to find out that it is a legitimate university, but I think it is very cool. I also feel like it has to be easier for Cornado to be a President at a deaf university as supposed to a hearing university (not to undermine her success in anyway). I feel that her being president at a predominately deaf university increases her comfort zone as well as her ability to communicate with professors, other staff and students.

    I am curious as to the path that got her to where she is the president of a university today thought. I would be curious to learn more about the leadership aspect of language to see that if sign language has the option to beat around the bush or if because of being deaf and signing to communicate, the individuals are more blunt and to the point.

  7. This is so interesting! I could never imagine the struggle she has to go through being deaf and a woman leader. It is hard enough just being one or the other! I do not know much about being deaf or blind or any of those types of disabilities. I have not looked into them much, but I find the way that they are able to communicate with everyone very intriguing. I am very interested to know more about the style these leaders have to take to be taken seriously or get their points across. I also wonder how a male in this situation would differ from a female! Would a deaf male take the same aproachs as this woman and other women?

  8. I think this is interesting not only because it brings in the intersectionality of multiple marginalized identities, but also because being deaf profoundly effects communication. What a great example of an extraordinary leader who has clearly overcome the challenges of leadership “labyrinth”.

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