“We lift as we climb. Embrace the instability that you don’t know where you’re going. Follow your passion because it isn’t worth spending your time on things that do not fill you. Your job is to foster excellence with the people you work with but also for yourself,” said Kathrine A. Rowe, President of William and Mary at the Hampton Roads Chamber event, The Power of Women on Wednesday, April 3rd.
Elizabeth Weller, Executive Vice President, Gold Key/PHR opened the floor proudly stating, “There are 24 management positions throughout Hilton Norfolk the Main that are filled by women.” She spoke on why women make extraordinary leaders and are often at the head of large projects. “We are passionate, we have perspective, we are flexible, we are mentors, and we are taught that there is nothing we can’t accomplish with self-care and creativity.”
Next, a five-person panel discussion took place compiled of esteemed professional women including Dr. Newby Alexander, Dean of Liberal Arts School, Norfolk State University, Jessica Bedenbaugh, Business Development Manager, Portsmouth Economic Development, Janet Donovan, RADM, JAGC, USN (Ret.), Angela Utter-Gauthier, Senior Vice President, Five Rings Financial, and Lorraine Wagner, Vice President Operations, STIHL Incorporated.
The discussion was fueled by the relevant topics of breaking the glass ceiling in business, women empowerment and contributing to a thriving business community. A chocolate hammer was presented to each participant by sponsor, William and Mary Raymond A. Mason School of Business to metaphorically ‘shatter the glass ceiling’, which set a humorous and fitting tone for the event. The panelists were recognized for their remarkable level of commitment to their work.
Angela Utter-Gauthier said, “I just had to start. Sometimes you just have to do it. I am constantly reading and learning. I surround myself with people that help build me up. If I worked for myself, I was bound to be successful, but it is a scary thought to work on your own and to make a difference for other people and for my family.”
“If you want to get something done, give it to a woman. Anything I served on encouraged diversity and it is not enough to only have one women or African American on a board. I try to encourage the Norfolk State University faculty to understand that they have power and to get involved. Don’t ever be reluctant to show what you can do,” said Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander.
After serving 31 years in the United States Navy Janet Donovan said, “We have impediments that we put on ourselves and we don’t go for the ‘brass ring’ because there is a voice in our head stopping us. How do we stop that voice in our head? Perhaps by surrounding ourselves with our own board of directors, be our own cheerleaders, and empower ourselves. ”She confidently said, “The military is actively moving to increasing the numbers of women.”
Being a millennial, Jessica Bedenbaugh was able to speak for both sides of the generational workforce and noted the importance of being a mentor to younger generations as they learn and enter into new careers. She said, “Take every opportunity to talk to everyone. That’s something I’ve taken to heart thorough professional and personal endeavors. I raised my hand and took advantage of opportunities. I’ve met some of the most incredible mentors and sponsors that have taught me a lot of how I do and not want to lead as a professional.”
A major topic that was highlighted was working as a woman in a perceptive ‘man’s world’. Wagner said, “It should not matter or make a difference being a man or a woman in the workforce.” Her grandfather taught her that there are no limits or boundaries regarding what a woman can do compared to a man. She said, “I was willing to take the risk and that is the big important thing I want you to take away. You can come from nothing and the voices in your head need to be kept quiet.”
During Rowe’s keynote address she said, “I am so happy to be here thinking about the prosperity of our region with you. Let me note that this is a moment in which we are seeing women’s leadership blossom.” She gave relatable pop-culture examples of women leaders throughout the world achieving their goals including Glenn Close’s Oscar nomination earlier this year and said, “Women are hitting their stride right now.”
Speaking specifically about William and Mary she said, “One of our strengths is that we play the long game and we are committed to long trajectories of development.” She gave examples of student success and said, “Ten years ago an undergraduate from William and Mary founded a research product which now puts 5.5 trillion dollars into foreign aid data and uncovers exactly where funds are going. It’s made more than 40 million dollars in funding.” Rowe took time to speak on the business and higher education alliances in the region, specifically in Hampton Roads. She said, “I am thrilled by what that partnership allows.” She prompted the audience to consider this question, “What are we doing next and what is coming from that alignment? We are leading with an incredibly swift pace of change in our community.”
This year, William and Mary is excited to celebrate 100 years of an integrated co-ed campus and 50 years of African American students on campus while they continue to reflect on women’s leadership. She said, “Everyone in this room that has benefited by someone pioneering for us. It’s a privilege in part because when I walk into a room, people see a difference. It can mean an invitation for the things that matter.” From this, she asked the audience, “What differences would we cultivate? Change is a critical way to advance and become more of one’s self.”
Kathrine Rowe echoed the panelist’s views on work-life balance by explaining that part of being a women professional is being a ‘second shift worker’. She said, “You cannot be perfect, and excellence is not perfection. Forgive yourself for not being perfect and ask for support and partner with others. Encourage to open the questions that we do not have the answers to and answer them together.” Speaking from a business standpoint, she created the ‘play-date rule’ which means to end a playdate before the fun stops. This can be directly related to the workplace whether it be in collaborative meetings or major projects. She said, “What they can remember is the excitement of being there with that new companion and they want to go back.”
A sense of camaraderie and togetherness was felt throughout the room by the close of the event. Every woman in attendance was constantly urged to strive for their personal and business goals, dismiss the negative voices in their heads, and become their own cheerleaders. The words spoken by the powerful, intelligent, and inspiring leaders left a fundamental impact on the women gathered that will not soon be forgotten.
The Hampton Roads Chamber means business and works as a powerful economic partner, inspiring ignitor and impactful advocate for our diverse and inclusive business community.
Thank you to our sponsors: Presenting Sponsor: Bank of America, Host Sponsor: Hilton Norfolk The Main, Gold Sponsors: Clark Nexsen and Virginia Beach Convention Center, Silver Sponsor: William and Mary, Bronze Sponsor: Norfolk State University.