Thursday, March 3, 2011

Women in Leadership share success stories with Peirce community

I really hope you didn’t miss this one -- really! But just in case you did, here’s a little snapshot of what transpired on Feb. 9 at Peirce College.

The Career Development Services (CDS) team hosted a “Women in Leadership” panel discussion. Representing various industries, including banking, education, law, government and business, seven women shared their personal and professional journeys with an enthusiastic audience of students, alumni, faculty, and staff.

So you may be asking yourself, “why do a panel discussion on women in leadership?” Well, over 70 percent of our student body consists of women. As Patricia Rucker, Chief Academic Officer and Provost, pointed out, these women represent who our female students aspire to be -- if they aren’t already!

The women in this session, whether they sat at the panel table or in the seats filling the audience, faced many of the same issues. Mothers, daughters, girlfriends, wives -- they all juggle the pulls of family, friends, and personal needs with the demands of a career. Together, panel participants and audience members alike sat down for a candid conversation that was less about leadership models and more about lessons learned in leadership. This was the “stuff” rarely captured in text books.

We talked about everything -- the glass ceiling; taking care of kids while working full time; the stress of balancing multiple responsibilities; the impact of social media on business and job searches (Overwhelming response? Be careful what you put on your social networks! Always be professional and put the best version of yourself out there!); how to make an impression, or simply be seen, in a world increasingly dictated by technology (network, network, network!).

It was truly a memorable night and an opportunity for each woman in the room (and a few very brave men) to speak uninhibitedly about the impact of gender on leadership. More importantly, we realized that no matter what our role, pay, or job, we all encounter similar waves as we navigate our careers. Some become barriers. Others propel us to our next opportunity.

A heartfelt thank you to all of our panelists! You are all incredible role models for women in business and we thank you for your willingness to share your wisdom and insight with the Peirce community.

And for you, if you missed it, check out the slideshow of photos. Please read on for some of the questions posed by our audience and some of the answers and guidance offered by this strong group of Women in Leadership!

How did you break into your field? What kind of advice do you have for women looking to break into a new career?

For these women, it was all about going after their dreams and learning from people they admired. Another important message from them? Never stop learning. Vaneeda McDonald-Clyburn (Associate Business Partner, Organizational Development, Philadelphia Gas Works and Peirce graduate) said that finding out what you don’t like can play an important role in helping you discover what you do like.

Vaneeda recommended taking classes, constantly expanding your skill set, and being curious! Every experience (good or bad) can lend itself to your next role and shape what you do down the road. The panelists also drilled home one of the messages we always emphasize here in CDS -- never underestimate the power of networking and making connections. Other responses included:

“I found someone that I really admired, and I asked them, ‘will you be my mentor?’ Align yourself with the right people.” Julanne Gibat, Sr. Vice President, Greater Philadelphia Market, Susquehanna Bank

“I have become a firm believer in charting your own path. Everything that I’ve been able to do has helped make what I do now that much more rich and engaging.” Danielle Floyd, Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of the Superintendent, Philadelphia School District

“I’ve made decisions thoughtfully, toward things and away from things based on where I think I’m called. I have worked hard to be curious, to try to meet as many people as possible, not because I think I might get something out of that relationship but just because I might learn something. Every connection you make, every place that you present yourself, all those interactions get you places.” Martha Davis, Co-Director, Institute for Safe Families

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman in the workplace, and how did you handle it?

The business world is full of powerful personalities and these are not gender specific. However, statistics show more men are in leadership roles in business and industry. Some of the biggest challenges for women tend to be finding a voice, earning respect, and being taken seriously, whether you are struggling against age, gender, race, or any other obstacle that presents itself.

“Making your voice be heard. Be confident, be assertive, get your place at the table, and make sure people know you are there. Don’t let yourself be minimized.” Dina Dinacci, Director, Subscriber Products and Integration, Comcast Corporation

“Take yourself seriously.” Martha Davis

“Be true to yourself. You can’t try to fit yourself into what people expect. If you are true to yourself, you will have credibility, people will listen to you, and you will be successful.” Amy Kurland, Inspector General, City of Philadelphia

Women are responsible for so much more than themselves, how do you balance it all?
The panelists agreed -- prioritize, learn to say no, set boundaries, try to find time for yourself, and develop a support system (and be sure to use it).

Danielle Floyd and Martha Davis readily admitted that they don’t think they’ve ever found a true balance, but assured the audience that they are not alone if they feel that way! As long as you love what you do, don’t be afraid to throw yourself into it. It is OK to feel like you aren’t getting it right. Make mistakes, and take it one step at a time in figuring out the right balance for you.

“Draw a line in the sand … set boundaries and stick to them.” Dina Dinacci

“The single most important thing that helps me through it all is the support system that I’ve established around me. Without support, it’s very difficult to stand on your own.” Kimberly Stephens, Director, Higher Education Partnerships and Services, Graduate! Philadelphia

“I feel really blessed to have work that I’m completely passionate about. I do like to have my BlackBerry nearby … but I don’t mind!” Martha Davis

“It’s the big picture that you have to think about, not the day to day problems that everybody faces.” Amy Kurland

What keeps you motivated?

“When I can see I am making a difference in someone’s life.” Julanne Gibat

“Find something that you love, and make that space a better place. Believe in what you do.” Amy Kurland

“A famous theologian said something like ‘your calling is where the needs of the world intersect with your passion.’ I’m always looking for inspiration and hope.” Martha Davis

“Being able to see the amazing things that I know people in the district are doing on a daily basis is extremely motivating. And having those one-on-one personal conversations.” Danielle Floyd

“There are so many things that motivate me, but I think to sum it up, its having a sense of purpose. With a sense of purpose we all can move forward and feel as though we’re making a difference in this world.” Kimberly Stephens

“I always like to be learning something new, and to push myself to get out of my comfort zone. Situations that you put yourself in that you are completely uncomfortable with make you a stronger and better person.” Dina Dinacci

“At the end of the day, to know that we’ve made a difference.” Vaneeda McDonald-Clyburn

Do you feel successful? Do you think you’re at your peak?

Success is different for everyone, but these leaders all agreed they feel most successful when they are making a difference, impacting people, garnering respect and admiration from their peers, and maintaining their integrity.

And it turns out that our panelists were a very humble group. Many of our panelists admitted that they never really thought of themselves as incredibly successful, until they took a step back to take stock of their accomplishments. They encouraged all women to do the same and to acknowledge all they have achieved. Give yourself credit for your hard work and accomplishments, and then position yourself to move forward.

“Take a step back and start to make a list of your experiences, your skill sets, what you know … you really can say, wow, I look even better than I thought.” Dina Dinacci

“I never ever once felt that I was a success, I just didn’t, and I think that is something that is a very common feeling among women. When you sort of step back and take stock of yourself and what you have done and what you have accomplished over the years, I think that is very empowering.” Amy Kurland

“I feel that I’m a work in progress. Throughout the years, I felt successful when I would run into students that I had impacted, and for me, that was success.” Kimberly Stephens

“Have I reached my peak? Not even close.” Vaneeda McDonald-Clyburn

This was their advice. And as I carve out my own career and leadership path, I can tell you it is sound, relevant, and time tested.

Oh, one last thing! Martha Davis suggested some excellent books on leadership and we wanted to share those titles with you: "Six Degrees of Connection: How to Unlock Your Leadership Potential" by Liz Dow (President of Leadership Philadelphia, an organization which several of the panelists are a part of), and "The Soul of Leadership: Unlocking Your Potential for Greatness" by Deepak Chopra. The CDS center will soon have these books on hand for students and alumni to read!