CAITLYN MALIK & CLAIRE GILMORE
Director of Media & Staff Writer
Image courtesy of Jacqueline Pilar
On Tuesday, April 8, 2014, the Marjorie Luke Theatre was bustling with excitement as Kathleen Sebelius, member of President Obama’s cabinet as the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, who announced her resignation a few days later, Katrina Rogers, president of Fielding Graduate University, Peggy O’Brien, Director of Education for the Folger Shakespeare Library, and mediator Anna DiStefano, Director of the Worldwide Network for Gender Empowerment (W.N.G.E.), graced the stage for an evening highly anticipated and sure to be extraordinary. The event, presented by the W.N.G.E. and Fielding Graduate University, “Women in Leadership: Motivations, Experiences, and Reflections,” undeniably lived up to its name, delivering to the audience, of all ages and genders, a night filled with laughs, stories, and utterly inspiring food for thought.
Kathleen Sebelius has been heavily involved in politics throughout her career; she acted as the Kansas Commissioner of Insurance and Kansas Governor before assuming her next position, and possibly summit of her career, as the Secretary of Department of Health and Human Services, where she held a leading role in the Affordable Care Act, which is bringing millions of Americans health care, who otherwise would have had no access. Katrina Rogers, leading as President of Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara and serving on its Institute for Social Innovation, has worked tirelessly in education and humanitarian efforts during her career. Peggy’s passion for education can be seen throughout her life’s work, as well, especially when one looks to her contributions at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C., as she advocated to bring teachers together from all over the country to share knowledge and experience on how to create the most beneficial learning for our country’s youth.
During a private interview prior to the start of the presentation, the women opened up about intimate questions that subtly lace our society today. Sebelius explained the stereotypes against women that plague any realm, but especially politics, generally deemed “a man’s job,” quietly associated with the stigma that women were not meant for such an authoritative job. “It was unusual for women to run for office,” said Sebelius. “But it was an unspoken topic.” Conventional roles for women were constantly imposed on her. “There was the question, ‘where are your children’?”
Following this, as the speakers took the stage, the conversations were lively and thought provoking. Peggy O’Brien was keen on the power of confidence. “Confidence for women in the workplace is key,” said O’Brien. “Women tend to shy away from it, because less pleasant adjectives come along with it,” alluding to conventional slang that is often used to characterized women who are bold. She describes an aura of confidence as a powerful tool that, even alone, can get things done. Sebelius urged women to be confident and take risks more often, as men tend to do.
Just as important as self confidence is confidence in others’ abilities, all women agreed. Sebelius believes that the most important leadership quality is inclusiveness. A leader should not just be the boss, he or she also needs to “roll up [his or her] sleeves and get the job done,” said Sebelius. Katrina Rogers nodded and said, “Decisions are better [made] collectively, actions are better collectively.” These women think that a true leader is one who enables individuals and encourages their growth, in order for the whole group to grow and achieve its goals.
Investing in other people was a prominent theme of the presentation. Whether it be for leadership or for friendship, strong relationships are indescribably valuable. “Gather friends along the way and never let them go,” said Sebelius, “If you have lost any, go back and get them.” This group of accomplished women advise the audience to find the extraordinary people around them. The most influential leaders are not always the famous ones, but the ones we interact with in our everyday lives. It is important to get inspiration from people around us to help improve ourselves. Every person has something to offer and something to learn from.
Addressing Sebelius’s voice on the inevitable stereotypes that mold women in the workforce, O’Brien admitted, “I just always felt I could break all restraints.” Adopting the mindset that one can achieve is not only extremely helpful, it is key. “You need to know you’re good enough… If you find people around you who don’t tell you that, get other people around you,” said Sebelius. This direct forthrightness each of the women spoke with was admirable throughout their discussion; their confidence perfectly modelled what they preached in being sure of yourself, your abilities, and your ideas.
Rogers recounted a quote from President Obama, “No matter where you are, what role, we are all working on our paragraphs,” reminding us of the dynamic nature of our lives. She then added, “Life has the meaning we make of it.” Humans are always developing their character and learning from experiences, failures, and successes. And we can only achieve this success with great persistence and tenaciousness, Rogers insisted, beaming. And just as we develop from it, success is most certainly a process, itself. “Success is about making progress… pushing the rock a little up the hill,” said Sebelius.
Not only an offering of vision and wisdom to an acquisitive audience,“Women in Leadership: Motivations, Experiences, and Reflections,” was a celebration of the woman of today and all she can achieve, and which Kathleen Sebelius, Katrina Rogers, and Peggy O’Brien all represent so truthfully and beautifully.