Carnegie Mellon University

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March 11, 2019

Ledford Negotiates for Climate Change at CMU

By Bruce Gerson

Ayana Ledford is working hard to make her roles at Carnegie Mellon obsolete.

Ledford is director of diversity and inclusion for the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. She’s also executive director of PROGRESS, the Program for Research and Outreach on Gender Equity in Society at the Heinz College, which teaches young girls and women how to negotiate. PROGRESS was founded by its faculty adviser Linda Babcock, who co-authored “Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide.”

“My goal is that one day there will no longer be a need for a position like mine. If I’m successful, I will no longer have a job. That would be the greatest thing ever,” Ledford said. 

In the meantime, Ledford is driven to make an impact.

“I’ve faced a lot of challenges, socially and economically,” she said. "When I went to college I felt like I always had to catch up with the students from private schools and boarding schools. And when I got my first job, I never negotiated. I didn’t realize the power I could have.” 

Ledford joined PROGESS 11 years ago and has led the development of an online game, guidebook and curriculum for middle school girls. The interactive materials and activities teach girls how to negotiate and provide instruction for teachers and mentors to guide their students. Ledford works with schools to incorporate the curriculum into their courses.

“Those who lead the young girls know better how to adapt the material to meet their students’ needs. Every organization is different, so the curriculum is modular,” said Ledford, who is working on creating a toolkit for college-aged women.

Ledford has given more than 500 presentations to women and girls on the art of negotiation and inclusive best practices in corporate, academic and government sectors. She often is invited to speak at national conferences and meetings.

"My goal is that one day there will no longer be a need for a position like mine. If I’m successful, I will no longer have a job. That would be the greatest thing ever."

On May 4, PROGRESS will hold one of its biannual workshops, called “Speak Up!” The half-day session at the Heinz College this year will include 50 girls and 50 adults who seek opportunities to improve the lives of the girls they serve. While the girls are learning how to harness the power of negotiation through fun and interactive workshops led by Heinz College students, adults will be taught how to utilize the teaching materials.

Ledford joined the Dietrich College two years ago after attending a town hall meeting of students, faculty and staff on college climate. 

“After the town hall I met with Dean [Richard] Scheines to talk about how I would like to support the efforts to strengthen the college’s sense of community. I was energized by its participants and was eager to be a part of taking meaningful action,” she said.

In her role as director for diversity and inclusion, Ledford is creating a strategic plan for Dietrich College and Heinz College. She is inviting staff, faculty and student representatives from each college to be a part of the committee to guide the planning process. Overall, the plan will align with the university’s goals for diversity and inclusion, but will be unique to each of the college’s specific needs.

Additionally, Ledford seeks out opportunities to facilitate community engagement beyond campus. One opportunity will take place March 28-30, when the Dietrich College, English Department and Google host “TripTech: Three days of Community, Technology and Arts. Ledford partnered with faculty members Steven Wittek and Rich Purcell to organize the event, which will focus on tech and teaching, coding and culture, hip hop and hacking. This will be a chance for community members — on and off campus — to learn from each other and foster stronger relationships.

“There are many champions for equity working to strengthen our community and it is important to partner and learn from each other. I am fortunate to have a wealth of support from staff, faculty and students,” Ledford said.

“There are many champions for equity working to strengthen our community and it is important to partner and learn from each other."

At Heinz College, she recently conducted a student-requested workshop on responsible community engagement. The objective of the presentation was to encourage participants to use an “asset-based perspective” as they work in communities and also to assess how their identity could potentially influence the relationships.

“Do their solutions actually benefit the people they are intended to serve? Are community members being included in the planning process?” she said.

Ledford earned her bachelor’s degree from Dickinson College and a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh. Prior to coming to CMU, she worked for several nonprofits and lived in Gabon, Central West Africa, where she worked to improve health outcomes for its economically disadvantaged residents.

She has found her calling at CMU.

“This is the best job. It’s challenging, but when your job is to create and identify opportunites to improve upon the social fabric of a community so everyone can reach their full potential, you can’t help but keep trying,” she said. “Even more important, the work that I do here has the capacity to effect change beyond our campus.” 

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