Becoming a leader: Leah Cox

Learn more about Vice President for Inclusion and Institutional Equity Leah Cox's leadership journey

Leah Cox in her office

For Leah Cox, Ph.D., Towson University’s first vice president for inclusion and institutional equity, Women’s History Month is all about leadership, mentoring and breaking down barriers.

“There are still inequities in terms of gender,” Cox noted. “Especially in leading organizations, leading units and being paid. And, while we have a lot of women on our college campuses, as we do here, they don’t always get encouraged, mentored or supported in leadership roles.

“As we’re looking at what we want our leaders to look like—and who we want to lead our country, our corporations and our government— we need to engage our young women,” Cox added, “I think it’s really important for women to see other women leading. We don’t always see that.”

Cox came to TU in January 2017 from the University of Mary Washington, where she served as special assistant to the president and chief diversity officer, Title IX coordinator, and campus ombudsman. She previously worked at Gallaudet University, where she established its first office for minority students.

Now Cox is leading TU’s first diversity and compliance office.

She clearly remembers the women who had the biggest impact on her leadership journey.

“My first job was at Sinai Hospital,” Cox recalled, “where there were a lot of male doctors. Within my unit, my first supervisor was a woman, so being able to watch her interact with them was very interesting. Sometimes it was like running into a brick wall, but she seemed to maneuver very well.

“When I was at Gallaudet, there was this dean of the College of Communications,” Cox said. “She was newly hired, not long after I got hired, and she was just a really strong person. I was really impressed by the way she carried herself, the way she went about enacting some of the policies and changing the curriculum, and how she worked with the faculty. I often thought, ‘I want to be like her when I grow up.’

“So it’s been really important to come here and report to a strong woman president,” Cox added, “and one who is absolutely and unapologetically fearless.”

What Cox learned at Sinai, Gallaudet, TU and elsewhere in her career has helped to shape the leadership qualities and characteristics she believes are most critical for women today.

“I think you need to have a sense of self,” Cox said, “that allows you to recognize your skills and abilities. You have to know what your worth is, what you can do, what your skills are, what your strengths are, and where you may need some work.

“For me, it’s always about wanting to learn more,” she added. “You can’t be shy about saying ‘I don’t know that and I need to know more.’ You definitely have to be willing to step up and take some risks. You can’t be the wallflower.”

Cox smiled when she thought about the leadership traits that have manifested themselves in the young women who, in recent months, have led the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and the school safety efforts that culminated in the March 24 “March For Our Lives” rallies in Washington, D.C., and in communities across the nation.

“These movements have helped women find their voices” Cox said, reflecting again on the importance of Women’s History Month. “They’re stepping out there and you can’t ask for any more. To be able to find your voice and stop something that should not be happening is powerful. And as women, both young and old, they’re making a huge difference.”