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Women in Leadership Initiative bridges personal, professional development

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Candace Campbell Jackson was forced to cut her Q&A with Vice Chancellor, Provost and Chief Academic Officer Gretchen Ritter short due to an overflow of questions from the attendees.

There were almost 300 participants in the Zoom room for “A Conversation With Provost Ritter,” a discussion of leadership, resilience and change held on Feb. 17. The number of people in attendance showed her the tangible impact that her work with the Women in Leadership Initiative had on the professional development of women at Syracuse University, she said.

The Women in Leadership Initiative started as an idea from Jackson, SU’s senior vice president and chief of staff to Chancellor Kent Syverud, after observing a desire for personal and professional connection between women at the university.

“I was hearing from more and more women on campus at all levels… (that) we really needed to have an opportunity to come together as women and as persons who identify as women to talk about personal and professional development, and career and establishing a pipeline, and to really get to know each other and be a resource, ”Jackson said.



Jackson works closely with Dara Royer, the senior vice president and chief marketing officer of the university. Jackson’s observation of the need for professional mentorships for women resonated with Royer.

“There is a lot of literature out there about how women might not apply for jobs if they do not feel like they’re 100% qualified for a position,” Royer said. “All of us have been really trying to encourage women to engage in this and our colleagues to go after opportunities and to go after their goals and their dreams, and that’s a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

For Royer, serving as part of the initiative’s steering committee was a way to give back.

“In my career, there have been incredible women that I’ve had the pleasure to meet to work with who have given me a helping hand along the way, either through just candid advice, or feedback or support, and so part of this is a pay it forward, ”Royer said.

The initiative hosted a lecture series in March called “Resilient Leadership and Change,” led by leadership experts Amy P. Kelly and Jack Slavinski The goal of the lectures was to assist women in their careers following a return to the workplace after the pandemic, Royer said.

According to an SU News release in early March, the series was divided into four parts: “Cultivating Positive Mindset Practices,” “Strengthening Emotional Intelligence and Resiliency,” “Communicating With Agility” and “Creating Your Change Journey.” The lectures focused on weaving together empathy, self-care and emotional resiliency into leadership skills.

“We’re not going to sit around and let anybody assign ‘soft’ to (empathy) and point at women. It’s a skill, and we want to make sure everybody’s focusing and developing, ”Jackson said.

We’re not going to sit around and let anybody assign ‘soft’ to (empathy) and point at women

Candace Campbell Jackson, SU senior vice president and chief of staff to Chancellor Kent Syverud

Outside of its events, Jackson said, the initiative works to provide women with a consistent support network for career development day to day.

“So many people want to unleash their potential, and they want a kind of a roadmap of how to do that through conversation, through learning, through modeling… and so I think that something that anchors a lot of our conversations, especially within the steering committee, is this idea of ​​how we help people unleash their potential, ”Royer said.

The initiative aims to provide extra support because of the additional challenges that women face in the workforce, Royer said.

“We’re multi-dimensional, in terms of how you balance, for some women, being a mother, being a leader, being someone who may be a student as well – there’s so many different things that individuals have to manage and balance, Royer said.

Sarah Scalese, SU’s senior associate vice president for university communications, said the young women who are part of the initiative benefit from direct contact with the initiative’s senior faculty members and organizers.

“If you aspire as a young female to be at the highest echelon of your career… being in a room with Candace, and with Dara, and with Gretchen, and with some of the other members and participants, it really allows you to visualize what your path is, and that’s not something that everybody experiences in corporate environments, ”Scalese said.

Another benefit of the program that Scalese noticed was the impact on male colleagues, she said.

“One of the things I’ve appreciated about Women in Leadership is that it’s also creating empowerment for our male colleagues, to support women as well and to empower women,” Scalese said.

The steering committee, which is made up of 17 women across different academic and administrative departments at SU, emphasizes the importance of listening to the community and creating opportunities that will support them. Elisa Dekaney, a member of the steering committee and associate dean of SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, said the program aims to build a community that empowers, equips, supports and promotes the professional growth and personal well-being of those who identify as women.

“The word that comes to my mind is community: a place where we can come together to better understand leadership challenges and success through mentoring, education and training, and data-informed practices and strategies,” Dekaney said. “That is how (Women in Leadership) supports women in their education and careers.”

“We’re going to continue to do more multiculturally to make sure everybody feels represented, listened to and valued,” Jackson said. “We just want to help women be thoughtful and planful, about developing themselves in their careers or their academic path.”

Contact Stephanie: [email protected]

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