Women filed into Cordiner Hall on a blustery Wednesday afternoon. Dressed in their finest business casual, students, faculty and staff sat in folding chairs waiting for three powerful leaders to address the annual Women in Leadership Symposium.
“I always want to support Whitman doing more activities like this that support women in leadership and women who wish to pursue leadership positions,” sociology major Sophie Teague ’15 said as she took a seat.
Whitman alumna Colleen Willoughby ’55 stepped up to the microphone. Willoughby, the co-founder and president of the Washington Women’s Foundation, has been putting on the Women in Leadership Symposium since 1981. Each year, she brings women leaders to campus to inspire the Whitman community as they continue to think about their futures in the professional sphere. Assistant Director of Career Development Gayle Townsend was in charge of Whitman’s role in organizing the event.
“The symposium is designed to showcase the leadership experience that women continually bring to their personal and professional lives,” Townsend said. “It is a great experience for the students on campus to meet and talk with women from all types of backgrounds and to hear the trajectory of their career life. Even today there are young people – men and women – who still need this exposure to see that women can and do develop very successful careers and give back to their communities in very different ways.”
This year’s speakers included Heather Tarr, head coach of the University of Washington’s women’s softball team; Grace Chen, former executive director of the Girl Scouts of Western Washington; and Kristen Tetteh, director of communications for the Washington Global Health Alliance.
Each had a different story to tell. Tarr spoke of not having the ability to play fast-pitch softball, so she insisted on playing baseball with the boys’ team. Her advice to her audience was to go for it, even if they think that they are not qualified for the position.
“I had no business on my resume applying to be a head coach,” she said in her talk. “However, no matter what got you in the door, there’s always an opportunity for you once you’re in there.”
Chen spoke of the many jobs she has held, the impressive degrees she has, and how those things added up to a specialty in management. She took the job with the Girl Scouts without ever being a part of the program as a child.
“No matter where you are in life, there are opportunities for you to embrace,” she said. Chen gave advice for being a leader in the workplace. “When you lead, people think you tell people what to do, but really you’re creating an environment where everyone participates.”
Tetteh shared her life story, starting with her small-town America upbringing and working her way up to her victory in the 2006 Miss Washington pageant with a global health platform, one of the first contestants to choose such a platform. After competing in the Miss America pageant, she came back to Seattle, where she got a job as an assistant with the Washington Global Health Alliance and has worked her way up to director of communications.
“I believe leaderships is first and foremost about service to others. Leadership is about connecting with people,” Tetteh said. “No matter what, lead from where you are. Use every advantage you have.”
After all the guests spoke, there was a short question and answer period. Students, faculty and staff asked questions of the guests, some seeking advice and others just out of curiosity. And then, those invited went off to dinner with the speakers.
Willoughby closed the event with the following piece of advice: “You don’t get anywhere without stamina.”
“It’s important to learn about other women’s experiences in nontraditional roles—how they come to be where they are and what challenges they have faced,” environmental studies-economics double major Jamie Williard ’18 said.