Women in Leadership Symposium inspires a new generation of leaders

October 23, 2013

Women in leadership

By Edward Weinman
Photos by Matt Banderas

Virginia Anderson said she didn’t know how to define leadership.

At Whitman’s annual Women In Leadership Symposium, the former director of the Seattle Center and current Cornish School of Arts board chairwoman instead referred to the first stanza of the Mary Oliver poem “Wild Geese”: You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves.

Anderson went on to tell the students packed into the Young Ballroom at the Reid Campus Center that one of the careers she loved was helping to develop inclusive public spaces in cities. She served as senior VP for Cornerstone Development, Co., working in neglected and abandoned urban centers to create neighborhoods with retail, office and residential development.

Colleen WilloughbyThe Women in Leadership Symposium brings successful women leaders like Anderson to Whitman to inspire students. Trustee Emerita Colleen Seidelhuber Willoughby ’55, a Seattle-based philanthropist, founded the symposium in 1981.

“It is now our time to lead,” Willoughby said, before telling Whitman students that leadership is about “learning, experience and [finding] mentors to advance.”

Lauren Platman ’15, president of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, attended the symposium for this very reason – to find a mentor.

“Colleen was a Kappa president like me,” Platman said. “I want to learn how she used her skills as president and then applied them to become such an important figure.”

The symposium’s other speakers were Katherine Anderson, owner and founder of Marigold and Mint, and a Seattle restaurateur; as well as Kathleen Weber, director of Weber Nagan Group of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

Weber told stories from when she first started as a stockbroker on Wall Street. Her company didn’t have a maternity leave policy. When she became pregnant, she decided to solve this problem herself by writing the maternity leave policy for her company.

When she sees a problem, Weber said she thinks to herself, “Somebody needs to do something about that. I guess it should be me.”

Leadership is about “finding a problem and solving it,” Weber said.

Jessica Lawrence ’15 attended the symposium, like her friend, Platman, to learn about mentors. Lawrence, the president of Delta Gamma, was inspired by the stories the speakers told.

“It’s great to have all these women who have had successful careers speak to us. It shows us what’s possible after we graduate.”