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women leadership symposium
The 2012 Women in Leadership Symposium encouraged all Whitman women: "Be confident in your competence."

Show up. Step up. Follow up.

These are the three rules Fidelma McGinn, one of three guest speakers at this year’s Women in Leadership Symposium, follows in her roles as an active philanthropist, director and leader.

guest speaker
Fidelma MicGinn, vice president of philanthropic services at The Seattle Foundation, speaks at the symposium.

The Women in Leadership Symposium is hosted by Trustee Emerita Colleen Willoughby ’55, a pioneering Seattle philanthropist and founder of the Washington Women’s Foundation. Colleen has sponsored the women’s symposium at her alma mater almost every year since 1981, bringing women leaders to campus to inspire future generations of Whitman students and alumnae as they envision their futures in the professional sphere.

“I like encouraging women to be leaders,” Willoughby said. “The world needs our intelligence, compassion, wisdom and action. We need to sit at the table where both local and global decisions are made. Whitman prepares students to take their seats at the table. Whitman teaches you how to learn, how to engage and how to lead.”

McGinn, who is vice president of philanthropic services at The Seattle Foundation and executive director of three non-profit organizations, told students in attendance that it’s one thing to show up, but it’s another to actually “step up” and be involved. For Aya Hamilton, northwest region head for private wealth management at Goldman Sachs, it’s all about confidence.

“We need to be confident about our competence,” she said. “You are way better than you think you are.”

Hamilton spoke frankly about the daily challenge she faces at her job, and how she often feels that others doubt her competence – that somehow, good still isn’t good enough. It took her a while to realize that she was in her position for a reason and that she was meant to be there. She encouraged all attendees to remember that Whitman students are strong, smart individuals and to stay confident.

Deborah Streeter ’85, mother of Molly Streeter ’15, serves as board president of iLeap and directs The Hans & Elizabeth Wolf Foundation in Seattle. She said that you can’t do it all.

“I had to take a step back and breathe when I started having children,” she joked.

Women in Leadership Symposium 2
Panelists discuss the role of women in today's workforce. From left: Fidelma McGinn, Deborah Streeter '85, Colleen Willoughby ’55 and Aya Hamilton.

All three women discussed the importance of having a mentor and role model in their life. Hamilton, in particular, told students in attendance about a woman who was the first African American banker in the northwest, and also served as her philanthropic and business role model. McGinn spoke about her mother raising children as a single mom and being the “pillar of her family.” She also talked about the good training and support she received from mentors in Ireland when she worked at the Microsoft Corporation.

Now that these women are successful and fulfilling leadership positions, they in turn can serve as role models for Whitman’s many up and coming women leaders.

“The purpose of this symposium is to give Whitman students real life examples and stories of role models,” Willoughby said. “These women have carved out exciting and successful careers while also engaging in the community as leaders.”

—Jade Blake-Whitney ’15