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Changing the World & Building Community Among Black Women Leaders

‘I Learned How To Lead at Whitman’ —Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg ’01

By Tara Roberts

Wanjiru Kamau Rutenberg and the cohort of Black Women in Executive Leadership (B-WEL)
Impact, insights and innovation: In the fall of 2023, B-WEL Fellows convened for the first time at the Bellagio Center in Como, Italy.

Humanity is facing massive challenges across the globe.

Wanjiru Kamau-RutenbergWhitman College alum and global leader Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg ’01 says we’re not tapping into all the human strengths available to help solve those problems.

“We're excluding available talent on the basis of, ‘Well you were born female. Well, you were born Black,’” she says. “How can we diversify and strengthen the bench of leaders available to help us create solutions to the complex challenges we are currently facing?”

In 2023, Kamau-Rutenberg founded Black Women in Executive Leadership, or B-WEL, an initiative to create a connected global community of Black women leaders with initial funding from Schmidt Futures, where she was an Executive-in-Residence.

Using the wisdom of Black female executives, B-WEL encourages both personal and group efforts to create big changes in systems that prevent leadership teams from being as diverse as the talent pool worldwide, Kamau-Rutenberg says.

Launching Connection

B-WEL launched with an inaugural cohort of 17 fellows, including fellow Whittie, Cat Posey ’05. Read more about Posey's own leadership journey.

Kamau-Rutenberg says it’s been empowering and humbling to build this opportunity for other Black women.

“Empowering because there's power in community and not being alone.Humbling because I'm just so honored by the trust that these powerful women have placed in me,” she says.

At a B-WEL retreat on the shores of Italy’s Lake Como, many fellows came with “stories of deeply held pain, challenges and frustration at not being able to contribute the way they know they can,” Kamau-Rutenberg says. Together, they mapped the systemic and systematic roots of their experiences—and mapped the powerful and transformative partnerships and changes they could make together.

“We came as individuals and left as a community,” she says.

Leading Progress Then & Now

Kamau-Rutenberg came to the United States from Nairobi, Kenya, attending high school in Denver before enrolling at Whitman. While majoring in Politics with minors in African Studies and Gender Studies, she was a leader among the Black and international student communities and worked to engage issues of racial diversity and multiculturalism on campus.

 “I learned how to lead at Whitman,” she says.

Kamau-Rutenberg remains committed and connected to the college as a member of the President’s Advisory Board. Whitman has made progress on diversity and inclusion since she was a student, but the work isn’t done, she says.

“Let’s make sure that a Whitman education, which was so transformative to me, is available to others who look like me,” she says, “so that we’re preparing the next generation of problem solvers for the challenges that we face.”

Published on Feb 20, 2024
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