Connie Collingsworth, ’82, chief operating officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, kicked off the Women Lead 2022 – Leading Through Change event in front of a sold-out crowd at Nebraska Innovation Campus, Friday, March 4. A collaboration between the College of Business and College of Law at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the conference advances women in law, business, philanthropy and government.
“Women Lead creates a space for women to learn from each other and grow their networks. This event sells out each time, which is a direct result of the investment from our generous sponsors and the contribution our speakers make of their time and expertise,” said Molly Brummond, ’00 and ’03, assistant dean for external relations and strategic initiatives for the College of Law.
Spearheaded by Brummond and Sheri Irwin-Gish, ’03, executive director of communications, marketing and external relations at the College of Business, Women Lead began due to a College of Law initiative to provide training and networking to women lawyers. At the time, the College of Business hosted breakfasts for female business leaders featuring speakers such as JoAnn Martin, former CEO of Ameritas; Kim Russel, former president and CEO of Bryan Health; and Rhonda Revelle, long-time Husker softball coach. Combining efforts led to Women Lead 2020 – Claim Your Power.
“Two years ago, we created the first Women Lead event in early March, just two weeks before most of Nebraska went remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Irwin-Gish. “Attendees shared how what they took away from Women Lead inspired and helped them during the pandemic. For the 2022 event, we wanted to recreate that empowering experience in person again.”
The 2022 speakers included a strong mix of local and national lawyers and business professionals. In the opening keynote, Collingsworth encouraged the attendees to lead through confidence, build a great team and actively seek growth opportunities.
“Have confidence on each stop of your journey. Lead with intentionality by deciding how you want to show up as a leader. Open yourself up to uncertainty and embrace change,” Collingsworth said.
Former Washington Governor Christine Gregoire and DeLee Shoemaker, Microsoft’s general manager for U.S. State and Government Affairs, shared an in-person fireside chat about leading through change this year after attending via Zoom two years ago due to the pandemic. Deb Gilg, ’74 & ’77, former U.S. attorney for the District of Nebraska, moderated the discussion. Ria Tabacco Mar, director of ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, delivered the closing keynote with support from ACLU of Nebraska.
“Women leaders definitely are making a difference in the world. Powerful women, bound together by a common purpose, can empower others to achieve their own success and drive change in business and their community,” said Jill Davis, vice president of Wealth Management Trust at U.S. Bank, who attended the event.
Four women also shared personal leadership moments. They included Jennifer Bear Eagle, ’02 & ’08, senior associate attorney of Big Fire Law & Policy Group LLP; Teresa Ewins, the City of Lincoln Chief of Police; Helen Fagan, ’96 & ’14, assistant professor of practice in agricultural leadership, education and communication at the Institute of Agriculture and National Resources, who recently authored “Becoming Inclusive: A Worthy Pursuit in Leadership”; and Amy Ostermeyer, ’98 & ’06, executive vice president of development at Monolith Materials.
Breakout presentations ranged from the ABCs of allyship and avoiding burnout to harnessing the power of emotions when leading others and leveraging feminine strengths. Presenters included: Aakriti Agrawal, ’16, co-founder of Girls Code Lincoln and senior data governance specialist at Ameritas; Jamie Bahm, project manager, Center on Children, Families & the Law; Lindsay Thomsen, assistant professor of practice in management and director of business development for the Center for Entrepreneurship at Nebraska; Gwendolyn Combs, associate professor of management and director for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion in the Office of the Executive Vice Chancellor at Nebraska; Karla Corona, health and behavior coach specialist and creator of the Corona Method; Michelle Paxton, director, Children’s Justice Clinic; Lindsay Thomsen, assistant professor of practice in management and director of business development for the Center for Entrepreneurship; Ashley Votruba, assistant professor of psychology at Nebraska; and Dana Washington, general counsel at Boys Town.
“It’s so important that empowered women empower women, and Women Lead brought together leaders who were excited to support one another. At the event, we were able to support female-owned businesses and collaborate to aid in the growth of each other’s industries,” said Agrawal, who presented “Leading Through Code,” where she taught attendees to code while sharing the leadership lessons learned when teaching fourth-grade girls the same lesson.
Sponsors included ACLU of Nebraska, Baird Holm, Baylor Evnen, Cline Williams, Husch Blackwell, McGrath North and the Nebraska Governance and Technology Center. Women Lead also featured a marketplace with women-owned businesses, such as Art Bus LNK, Bright Spots Paper, Fleet Feet, Jilly’s Socks ‘n Such, Lulubee Artisanal Chocolates, Of the Earth Floral Design, Sapahn, Smartass & Sass, Una Gratia Co., the University Bookstore selling Fagan's book and Wax Buffalo.
“As a student nearing graduation, the Women Lead conference was an amazing opportunity to connect with inspiring leaders in our community and beyond. It was a privilege to learn about the journeys and successes of those who spoke,” said Mallory Krenk, a senior management and marketing major from Dwight, Nebraska, who led a breakfast roundtable and introduced Fagan. “My takeaways from the day will help me become a better leader as I start my career.”
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Attendees Respond to Women Lead 2022
“I found it incredibly inspirational to hear from successful women in all kinds of roles and learn more about their unique paths to leadership in their fields.”
- Stephanie Mahlin, Legal Counsel, Hudl
“Seeing and learning from women that have blazed trails in their lives and respective fields. Remembering that past your self-imposed fear is freedom.”
- Erin L. Moran, Executive Director, IITKGP Foundation US
“It is such a great opportunity to be surrounded by like-minded, women professionals and it was rejuvenating in both my professional and personal life.”
- Katie Klug, General Counsel, White Castle Roofing
“Women Lead is such an inspirational day where I was able to collaborate, connect and capitalize on relationships with other women who are leaders in their own profession and way.”
- Dr. Betsy Tonniges, Owner, Primrose School of Lincoln at Wilderness Hills
“The Women Lead conference was very inspiring - it isn't often we have a great platform to discuss and dig into the issues unique to women in the marketplace, while also uplifting one another. There were many "you too?" moments. Was very energizing, especially coming out of two years with less interaction than normal due to the pandemic.”
- Frances Hayes, Director of Communications and Public Relations, Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute
“The Women Lead Conference was a great collaboration of women in business and law. It was very inspiring to hear from women who have achieved career success and how they have made an impact as leaders. Hearing from great women leaders such as Connie Collingsworth, Teresa Ewins, Dana Washington and Dr. Helen Fagan was so impactful to me. Thank you so much.”
- Laura Wakefield, Human Resources Manager, University of Nebraska at Omaha
“It gave me a great opportunity to engage with and build connections with my team, centered around the topic of leadership.”
Published: March 7, 2022
- Maegan Stevens-Liska, Senior Director of Global Affairs and Director of Global Partnerships & Initiatives, University of Nebraska–Lincoln