Women in leadership panel

“How did Colby shape your leadership style?” Bonnie Maldonado ’16 asked last Friday afternoon, April 15 for the Women in Leadership Panel, where three female female trustees spoke on their experience in leadership. The panel featured Director of Behavioral Health at Fenway Health Jane Powers ’86, Partner Development Executive for Microsoft Corporation Joerose Tharakan ’08, and Director and Head of Global Corporate Banking at Bank of America Anne Clarke Wolff ’87. Maldonado, along with Kat Restrepo ’18, moderated the discussion. This question about the College’s influence on individual leadership style was the first of many asked during the hour-long panel.

Students, alumni, parents, administrators, and retired and current faculty members attended the event. Director of 50th Reunion Programs at Colby Susan Cook ’75, explained her reason for attending, “It’s just a great opportunity to hear from women leaders. They all have such interesting backgrounds, and I’m very interested in hearing how Colby shaped them into who they are today.” Merrill Read ’19 echoed Cook’s sentiment, saying, “It’s inspirational to hear from some really cool women.”

During the next hour, the trustees discussed their own life stories, offering advice to Colby students in the audience. Wolff and Powers cited the faculty’s leadership as key to their growth as leaders, thanking former President of the College William Cotter and retired Special Assistant to the President Janice Kassman for their support during their time at Colby. Additionally, they encouraged current Colby students to take advantage of the accessibility of the Colby community. “We didn’t have formalized LGBTQ support when I was at Colby. Back then, it was just me and Janice Kassman having lunch in her backyard and figuring out how we could get that started,” Powers recalled, providing a clear example of how a coalition between a faculty member and student provided the seed for cultural change.

Tharakan extended thanks to her professors and also encouraged students to use Colby as a place to push themselves beyond their comfort zones.“Moments of challenge are where I’ve found my greatest invitation toward leadership,” she said. “The confidence I gained from challenging myself has really shaped who I am.”

The three women also discussed how Colby prepared them for challenges specific to women in the workplace. All three agreed that Colby did an excellent job of providing a level playing field between young men and women. They explained that a Colby education taught them how to have a professional dialogue, a key skill in the professional world. From their professional experiences, however, it seems that women are more likely to question their ability to complete a task.

“You wouldn’t believe how many times a week I have to tell a woman, ‘Why are you saying you can’t do something?’ Most of the men I work with don’t say that,” Wolff explained. Wolff went on to suggest that when deciding to take a risk, she always walks through the worst possible scenario step-by-step. “First think, okay, if I take this risk, what’s the worst that could happen? I could lose my job. And if I lose my job, I just start over. And I know I can do that. And most likely, that’s not going to happen, because that’s the worst possible scenario,” she said, echoing Tharakan’s earlier point about the importance of confidence.

Additionally, equal pay continues to be an issue women face in the workplace. Powers, the only female on the senior staff at Fenway Health, shared that she is also the lowest-salaried worker on senior staff. They all agreed that salary negotiation is an essential skill, and that generally, women have a more difficult time than men pricing the value of their work.

In closing, the women offered a couple of tips on leadership and success. “I think as a leader, you want to inspire people to be their best self,” Powers said. Wolff added to this point, encouraging students to find what they are passionate about and convey that passion – to potential employers, peers, professors, and friends. In hiring, Wolff shared that she does not necessarily look for a potential employee with the perfect resume. Instead, she looks for someone who is smart, curious, and shows passion about something. “There is no better thing than watching someone who has a passion,” Tharakan added. They all agreed that it is important not to sweat the small stuff and to always ask for what you want. “Ultimately, you have to discover your values and ask yourself, “what really do I want out of my life?” Powers said. “If it’s something that brings you joy, be grateful for and chase after it.”

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