Leadership comes with obligations, said the six panelists at the Women in Leadership Symposium that Whitman College held recently. These leaders feel compelled to use their power to help those who need it, participants explained at the Feb. 15 event, which the Student Engagement Center sponsored. Whitman students came away inspired.
Mo!, youth leaders organizer and activism advocate at Got Green, a community-building and change-agent organization in Seattle, helps "build a society that moves in a way for all people," Mo! said. The presenter analogized the effort as a type of "baton that I can pass down to the next generations."
"I think of leadership as a compass," added Chau Dang '06, a product manager at Nvidia computer technology out of the San Francisco Bay area, and a former national board member of the American Cancer Society. "It's a way to guide the work that you do."
That guidance entails finding one's own way when "no one on the board looked like me," she revealed. "I kept asking myself what could I really do at a board table? But I really had to take a look back and see those who I owed it to, that if I was allowed a voice at that table, to take it."
Leaders balance decision-making with diplomacy, observed Mia Satya, lead employment specialist at the LGBT Center in San Francisco.
Leadership for her began from an early age when she questioned the assumptions of prevailing systems. "As a white person, I have come to know that we can't fix issues in racial justice without acknowledging what our country was built on," Satya said.
Sudha Nandagopal, equity and environment initiative program manager at the Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment, stressed "intersectionality" regarding leadership. "When you're in a space, you need to recognize how you lift up the voices of those most affected," continued Nandagopal, former board president of OneAmerica Votes. "Ethical leadership is recognizing humanity" even though "bureaucracy is about putting things into boxes" and "boards are constructed basically for white men."
Janet Lopez, senior program officer at the Rose Community Foundation in Denver, Colorado, talked about the many trajectories to leadership–that the path isn't and shouldn't necessarily be linear.
Feather Sams Huesties '00, district 12 operations coordinator at the Oregon Department of Transportation, Office of Civil Rights, and an enrolled tribal member of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, referenced perspective. "My mom taught me when I was young to do the right thing the right way, especially when no one is watching. You do it because it needs to get done, not for the fame." She doesn't want people to point at her and say: Look what she did. Instead, "I want them to say, ‘Look what we did.'"
Such advice resonated with Whitman students.
"I wanted to learn and support these women who are in leadership positions," said Samarah Uribe Mendez '20. The symposium proved "a good way to see all the things that are possible."
India Flinchum '21 appreciated how speakers pursue social justice in their leadership.
Sociology major Ye Rim Cho '19 attended "to learn more about the real world and how women, especially women of color, navigate" it.
And Elena Arakaki '18, a sociology-environmental studies major, said, "I've actually met with two of the panelists already in researching my thesis."