Women Helping Women: 7 Lessons from Ladies at the Top

April 01, 2016

Helen Drinan and Carla Davis. Photo By Carla Osberg Photography

From President Helen Drinan

Almost any college president will tell you that there are certain events that are their favorites. Among my most cherished activities are soaking in the excitement and possibility of the first day of class; the mix of emotion and pride during commencements; and a special gathering that my university has hosted for the past 37 years known as the Simmons Leadership Conference.

The conference is considered the preeminent gathering for women’s leadership in the country. Every year, more than 3,300 business women (and some men!) come for a day of renewal, skill building, and sheer inspiration. Over the years our dazzling speaker line-up has included Oprah Winfrey, Madeleine Albright, Meg Whitman, Hillary Clinton, Sally Field, Viola Davis, the late Benazir Bhutto, and Billie Jean King.

Since not everyone can attend the conference, I wanted to share with you some wisdom from this year’s speakers. Enjoy!

#1 - Be Daring

Ping Fu, Vice president and chief entrepreneur officer at 3D Systems

On her most “daring” career move:
I quit a stable job and started a company when I had a baby girl. This move completely changed the trajectory of my career, my attitude towards my life journey, and my understanding of responsibilities.

What did you learn from that experience?
The entrepreneurial experience has taught me a few lessons:

  • It is all about love. Love what you do and love the people you serve. It is love that carries the tough days.
  • When in doubt, always err on the side of generosity.
  • Leadership is a being, not a position. Know who you are.
  • Practice trusting and tracking; not commanding and controlling.

#2 - Your Voice is Powerful — Use It!

Carla Harris, Vice chairman of Global Wealth Management and senior client advisor at Morgan Stanley

On the female leader she most admires:
Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan. Both were unafraid to use their voices and extraordinary oratorical skills to get people to listen and to thereby provoke change with their arguments, delivery and compelling logic. They understood that there is power in your voice and that it should never be submerged, for when you submerge your voice, you submerge and lose your power.

#3 - Focus on Your Strengths — Be Confident

Beth Phalen, Senior vice president at EMC Corporation, leads Data Protection & Availability Solutions within the Core Technology Division

On the best piece of career advice she’s received:
The best advice was a while ago, and was basically, “stop putting yourself down.” The message was: “Your strengths speak for themselves. Don’t limit your positive impact by discrediting yourself or minimizing your point of view.” It helped me realize that I can make a contribution and I’m really not helping anyone by not projecting confidence.

#4 - Just Do It

Precillia Redmond, Vice president and manager of organizational effectiveness and strategic project management services at Liberty Mutual Insurance Group

Her tips for work/life integration:
As someone said to me years ago when I complained that I felt guilty all the time — guilty for not spending enough time with my kids, husband, family, work: “Allow yourself to feel the feeling, but do what you need to do anyway.”

#5 - Men Play a Role

Edie Weiner, President and CEO of The Future Hunters

On the major issue or current event women should focus on to effect change:
Finding solutions for all of the unemployed, underemployed, and disillusioned young men here in the U.S. and abroad. Nothing destroys the fabric of homes, communities, lives, and the economy as much as disaffected young men with nowhere to develop their talents, interests, economic independence, and civil responsibility. This is a women’s issue! Women, even with the obstacles they encounter, can be strong and supportive. But young men, challenged by war, displacement, poor economic prospects, and biased justice systems pose a significant challenge to their mothers, wives, girlfriends, and children. They are attracted to fiery idealism and quick payoffs. Crime, violence, drug addiction, and terrorism increase, and communities are torn apart. We will have unprecedented refugee problems everywhere, fueled by climate change, wars, and economic collapses. Anthropologists have long known that as go the young males, so goes the civilization. We have to find productive ways to engage our youth, and provide promising paths for their futures.

#6 - Look to History: Women Role Models Abound

Michelle Ray, CEO and founder of the Lead Yourself First Institute in Vancouver, Canada

On the female leader she most admires, and how she has driven change:
Golda Meir, who was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1969 - the first woman to achieve this position anywhere in the world. It wasn’t because she was a woman., but rather, due to the fact that she was a leader. She forged change by supporting diplomatic solutions to finding peace in the Middle East and unrestricted Jewish immigration. She aligned herself and Israel with individuals and countries once considered unlikely “friends” of the Jewish state, thus gaining tremendous respect as a leader. She was ahead of her time. She was confident, charismatic and highly principled.

#7 - For Goodness Sake — Help Other Women!

Maggie Ruvoldt, Executive vice and general manager at 2U, Inc., an education technology company that partners with nonprofit colleges and universities to deliver online degree programs

On the major issue or current event women should focus on to effect change:
Opening up the inner networks for other women. When you break into the smaller, unofficial network, don’t close the door behind you.

This article was originally published on Huffpost Women.

Top photo: President Helen Drinan and Carla Harris by Carla Osberg Photography.

Bottom left photo: President Helen Drinan and America Ferrera by John Waite Photography.

Bottom middle photo: President Helen Drinan, Geena Davis and Anita Hill by Carla Osberg Photography.

Bottom right photo: Conference speaker Edie Weiner by Carla Osberg Photography.