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Leadership in a Changing Workplace
April 02, 2012
Twelfth annual Women’s Leadership Conference addresses women’s career choices and challenges.
By Jamie L. Freedman
In 2010, there were more women in the workplace than men, revealed keynote speaker Betsy Myers at the 12th annual Women’s Leadership Conference March 30 on the Mount Vernon Campus. But despite their strength in numbers, they still lag far behind their male counterparts when it comes to landing top leadership positions.
This year’s conference, titled “You Are Not Supposed to Be Here,” brought together more than 100 professional women—including many GW staff members, alumnae and students—for a day of lively discussion about career choices and challenges. The annual springtime event celebrating women leaders featured accomplished speakers and panelists, professional development workshops and a career resource fair.
“Currently, only 12 Fortune 500 companies are headed by women, and 16 percent of the members of the House of Representatives are women,” said Rachelle S. Heller, associate provost for the Mount Vernon Campus, during welcoming remarks in West Hall. “Even though for the past decade women have outnumbered men in obtaining college degrees, there are still far too few women rising to the top of fields like science, business, politics, academia and the military.”
In her keynote speech, Ms. Myers, author of “Take The Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You” and founding director of the Center for Women & Business at Bentley University, addressed the changing nature of leadership.
“A new era of leadership is necessary for a changing workplace,” she said, pointing out that in 2008, 70 percent of new entrants to the workplace were women and minorities. “What worked in the past no longer works. A more collaborative form of leadership is needed. When people feel valued, understood, appreciated and understood, they do their best work.”
Her wide-ranging discussion touched upon her work for two U.S. presidents: She was President Bill Clinton’s senior adviser on women’s issues and the first director of the White House Office for Women’s Initiatives and Outreach, and served as chief operating officer of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and chair of Women for Obama.
“Bill Clinton was a lot of fun to work for,” she said. “When I passed him in the hallway, he would stop me and say that he appreciated the work I was doing. He made us feel valued, supported and encouraged.”
Ames Hall was the site of the afternoon address, delivered by Donna J. Gambrell, director of the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund, which provides resources to underserved populations and communities throughout the country. She previously served as a deputy director at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Ms. Gambrell talked about the life lessons she learned from her 80-year-old mother and encouraged the conference participants to find their professional passion.
“Never settle for mediocre,” she said, sharing that she found her passion for community and economic development while working onsite on rebuilding initiatives in Louisiana and Mississippi in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “That was what drew me to CDFI and its extraordinary mission,” she said. “Every day, I can see the impact of the CDFI’s work and the difference it makes in people’s lives.”
The conference concluded with a wide-ranging panel discussion titled “Leadership: You Should Be There!” Moderated by Laura Taddeucci Downs, B.A. ’92, M.A. ’95, former president of the GW Alumni Association, the discussion featured panelists Anne Saunders Fabry, MVC B.A. ’88, a director in Brown Rudnick’s Government, Law and Strategies practice; Mary Davis Holt, a partner at Flynn Heath Hold Leadership; Terri Harris Reed, GW’s vice provost for diversity and inclusion; and Mary Jo Warner, GW’s senior associate director of athletics.