The trademark flower on her lapel has been replaced by a pin. The large City Hall office has given way to a smaller one at Spelman College. And the 18-hour work days are down to 12.
But former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is passionate about what she’s been doing since leaving office three months ago — trying to shape the next generation of women leaders, who’ve surprised her.
“I have found them to be incredibly focused and intent on their work,” Franklin said. “They’re very well-read. … I’m very, very much encouraged by their breadth and intellect.”
While Franklin primarily is encouraging students at Spelman, a historically black women’s college, to make their contribution in the public arena, I reminded her to put in a good word for the business world, too. As far as I know, Atlanta’s major corporations are not teeming with women in their top ranks — far from it.
Franklin, 64, is spending a year at Spelman in an endowed professorship funded by Bill and Camille Cosby. She’s lecturing on a variety of topics. Among them, ethics, the budgeting process, conflict resolution in the workplace and images of women in the media.
On the last issue, she tells students: “Stereotypes about women abound in the media. … An assertive, take-charge style is described as feisty, aggressive and unfeminine. … The images of women in the media impact the economic and leadership opportunities women have in business and in public office because stereotypes influence every aspect of life.”
Franklin mixes plenty of doses of reality in her lectures with enthusiasm about the need to make a difference and serve the greater good.
“It’s really important that the smartest people are engaged, making an impact,” she said.
Franklin feels at home in the academic world, returning to what she did in the early 1970s when she taught sociology at Talladega College in Alabama.
Interestingly, despite the hundreds of speeches she made just during her tenure as mayor, Franklin said she “practices at home, standing and speaking aloud” before delivering her lectures. Each one takes about three to five hours to prepare.
“I have enjoyed talking about these subjects from arm’s length.” she said. “I enjoyed every day as mayor. … I couldn’t imagine that I’d enjoy my role with young people as much as I do.”
She added, however, that she does not think of herself as a teacher.
“Teaching is hard,” she said. “I do not call myself a teacher. I’m a guest lecturer.”
Will the guest lecturer return to politics?
No, she said. She does not plan to run for office again, although she will stay involved politically.
In her time away from Spelman, Franklin has a part-time consulting job with the Alliance for Digital Equality and sits on three non-profit boards.
Staying busy, however, has created an issue for her with the students. Franklin said she has been stumped when they ask, quite frequently, how to balance work and family life.
“I’m a workaholic,” she said. “I tell them I have not mastered work-life balance, although I’ve struggled to do it.”
Maybe someday the person who sits in the Cosby chair at Spelman will be able to handle that one.
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