Monday night was the 3rd Annual Florida State University College of Communication and Information (CCI) Women in Leadership Conference, featuring panels of female leaders, entrepreneurs, and business owners. The event, hosted in the FSU Turnbull Conference center, showcased the achievements of local women while inspiring young women and students to become leaders and entrepreneurs themselves.
The first event on the schedule was the opening panel, featuring leaders from all over north Florida. Led by FSU Center for Leadership and Social Change Director Laura Osteen, the panel chatted about gender in the workplace, the role of women leaders, and the challenges faced by women and minorities.
The six panelists dove into questions fielded by Osteen and those in the audience. The first question asked about early experiences in leadership.
“The biggest opportunities in my life were not things I planned,” said FSU Provost Sallie McRorie, echoing many of the panelists’ remarks.
Margaret Massey, CIO at Springhill College, said “Going through life, I just found myself getting elected to things; I’m still learning how to be a leader.”
It seemed that many of the business leaders and entrepreneurs faced a similar challenge, accepting leadership roles and becoming leaders without conscious effort or knowledge.
“Most men self-identify as leaders, but we don’t socialize women the same way,” said Dr. Felicia Jordan Jackson, Professor at Florida State. “You can be a proactive leader; you don’t have to wait for someone to appoint you.”
If you’re not going to pull the trigger, who is? -Courtney Duran
Next, Osteen asked what experiences shaped the panelists as agents of change.
Provost Sallie McRorie remarked how her upbringing influenced her worldview.
“I grew up poor — that made a difference in the way I see things. It makes you more empathetic. Diversity has made an impact on me.”
One audience member asked, “What does it look like to be empathetic but unapologetic?”
“It’s not about being ignorant, but unaware,” said Michelle Winokur, Deputy Chief Financial Officer, Florida Department of Financial Services, after relating her experience being a minority for the first time in her classes at FAMU.
“I will never understand being an African American or Native American or black Caribbean woman, but I’m no longer unaware,” she continued.
Dr. Jordan Jackson talked about her experience as a woman of color and the discomfort that comes with “standing out.”
“Whether you are in a corporation or a classroom, there are certain expectations that get put on you. Some expectations you have to step up to, and some you have to let roll over you,” she said.
Courtney Duran, Senior Consultant of Health Operations at Booz Allen Hamilton, talked about growing up with a military family and never quite being able to “fit in” locally.
“I lived overseas in Japan, and at the time you didn’t see too many white people. And even in Panama where I blend in a bit more, I don’t hablo at all… It’s all about being proud of whatever you are. When you’re in a conference room with a bunch of middle aged men, you sometimes just need to say ‘I’m a woman, let’s move on.’”
Osteen then asked about the panelists’ “passion to lead” and ways for women in tech and business to “keep moving forward.”
In response, Sallie McRorie spoke about a “double-bind” that women in leadership experience: the challenge of being viewed as either “too hard or too soft,” and having to decide between being “ladylike or leader-like.”
The world needs you, and exactly who you are. The world needs us. -Laura Osteen
Courtney Duran also had a lot to say about this “double bind.”
“Growing up on military bases, I viewed being soft or feminine as a weakness until I met my first female fighter pilot. Her call sign was ‘Mustang’, and I remember seeing her take her helmet off on the runway and it was almost like slow motion. But I still sometimes struggle with commanding respect. People will say ‘Who’s the intern?’ to which I reply ‘I’m the boss!’ You need to balance that, too nice or too mean. If you think I’m too nice, try me!”
The final remarks from the opening panel were about finding a leadership style and embracing individuality while building confidence.
“Engage in things that make you confident,” said Margaret Massey. “Build your confidence, push yourself, and don’t let your skills become obsolete.”
Alieria Peterson, CMO & Owner, GO Bright Marketing, offered advice: “What you focus on develops; you are the best asset you have.”