‘On equal terms:’ Josephine Williamson, director of operations

Williamson smiles at the camera

Josephine Williamson, director of operations for the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley, is one of 18 “unsung heroines” honored this month. (Photo courtesy Josephine Williamson)

In honor of the “150 Years of Women at Berkeley” project, each day until Aug. 18  Berkeley News is hosting a series of Q&As featuring 18 unsung heroines on staff from all corners of the campus. The series will culminate on Aug. 18 with a special edition of Berkeley Campus Conversations, featuring four remarkable female staffers:

  • Cruz Grimaldo, assistant vice chancellor and director of the Financial Aid and Scholarships Office
  • Sunny Lee, assistant vice chancellor and dean of students
  • Mia Settles-Tidwell, assistant vice chancellor in the Division of Equity and Inclusion
  • Charmin Smith, head coach of Cal women’s basketball

The sixteenth woman honored as part of this series is Josephine Williamson, director of operations for the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley.

You were nominated for being an influential leader who goes above and beyond for employees. Vice Provost and former chair Tsu-Jae King Liu says, “She is an exemplary builder of positive working relationships. She takes time to get to know the staff, continually thinking of ways to promote and foster an inclusive and supportive work environment. By intentionally creating opportunities and a hospitable environment for people to interact informally, she builds strong camaraderie among the staff.”

What sets you apart from others is how much you care about inclusivity and your tremendous compassion for others. For example, you were instrumental in helping identify a dedicated lactation room and a gender-neutral bathroom for your community. When an African-American staff member shared feelings of isolation after racial incidents on campus, you regularly met with her. Based on these talks you initiated events to help foster awareness and appreciation for diversity, including workshops on micro-aggressions, transgender issues, work-style differences and more.
How have you become so adept at building positive influential working relationships, negotiating resources for your team and creating such strong camaraderie among staff?

I am immensely thankful that I had many wonderful opportunities to learn and grow during my career journey at Cal. I had a number of women managers and supervisors who inspired and motivated me. They set good leadership examples that exemplified extraordinary competency and confidence. They demonstrated the importance of being open-minded and caring leaders who advocate and practice open communication and engagement with staff at all levels with respect and authenticity.

During my years at Cal, I learned that it is not only important to recognize our strengths, but also to seek out areas where we need to change and further develop. I have been very blessed to have family, friends, teachers, colleagues and managers who accepted and embraced my failures and saw them as opportunities for growth, which would eventually lead me to become a better and stronger person. They encouraged and celebrated with me both in times of failure and success. I believe that I am who I am now because of people who embraced and lifted me up during my failures.

People believed in me and supported me in my endeavors. Without their caring support, I would not be where I am today. I will always remember the bountiful blessings I received from everyone at Cal, especially from my staff and team at EECS. My hope is to generously share with them what I have freely received.

What advice would you give to other staff members looking to move individuals, teams, units, or improvements forward at UCB?

I think it is important to actively listen and hear other people’s stories first and consider them carefully before making any judgments and decisions. When I try to understand a situation from another person’s perspective, it is truly a humbling experience and you really see things differently. As much as I want to be heard and be recognized for my ideas and my way of doing things, I believe it is more important to hear what others have to say and allow them to voice their ideas, concerns, and differences. It’s important to create a safe place for people to share stories, listen and reflect in order to come together as a team.

What is your favorite thing about working at Berkeley?

I love the people I work with. We have an incredible staff team at EECS. I don’t know how to describe them, other than that they are just awesome. We really enjoy working together as a team and we are there for each other through good and challenging times. I’ve also been very fortunate to work with great department chairs, faculty and students. Their passion for academic creativity and excellence is out of this world. People who are in leadership positions (both academic and non-academic) in the College of Engineering and other engineering departments are inspirational. I am sincerely thankful for all of their support.