Brenau Hosts Fourth Annual Women’s Leadership Colloquium with All-Star Panel of Speakers
Brenau University students, alumni, faculty, staff and friends gathered for conversations about the unique potential and challenges of women’s leadership Friday at the fourth annual Women’s Leadership Colloquium.
The event, organized by Brenau Women’s College, was held in the Hosch Theatre in the John S. Burd Center for the Performing Arts and included successful female leaders sharing their career stories, passion and advice for others who aspire to lead.
The guest presenters included keynote speaker Catherine Dixon, a principal at ghSMART; Mary Kathryn Wells, chief executive officer of Wells Marketing Agency; Kelley Castlin-Gacutan, educational consultant and former superintendent of Birmingham City Schools; Amy Whitley, retired vice president of human resources and chief diversity and inclusion officer for UPS; and retired Rear Adm. Patty Wolfe of the U.S. Navy Supply Corps.
In her work with ghSMART, Dixon serves major corporate and private equity clients, often in the context of merger and acquisition activity. The company uses employee knowledge of business and human behavior to help boards, executives and investors address pressing leadership challenges.
In other words, Dixon is an expert at helping companies and individuals use their strengths successfully. The subject of her keynote address was Path to Purpose: Leveraging Your Unique Strengths to Create a Successful Life.
“In my line of work I have the privilege of interviewing executives,” Dixon said. “I often hear stories of soaring triumphs, bland mediocrity and occasionally colossal failure. My wish for you is triumph. It takes work to get there, but you can. … Every day I see people using their strengths, and they achieve greatness.”
Dixon challenged the young women in the audience to identify their true strengths, know the origins of those strengths and sense where their weaknesses lie. She said there is a positive side to struggle and adversity, an idea echoed by Wells.
All five women shared their stories and experiences as female leaders in the workforce. Wells, the Brenau Alumni Association guest lecturer, discussed the roles both luck and skill played in her career. “It takes a bit of both to be successful,” Wells said.
Whitley shared her story of working 30 years for UPS, retiring and joining Brenau’s Board of Trustees in 2016 after expressing interest in the university to other board members.
“By putting yourself out there and expressing your interests, you can help put yourself in a position for success and, ultimately, to reach your own goals,” Whitley said.
Both Whitley and Wolfe had lengthy tenures in their respective organizations. Wolfe said she originally joined the Navy for the scholarship money to go to college. She stayed with it for 32 years, developing her own leadership style along the way.
“Those first years in the Navy were about learning how to be a leader,” Wolfe said. “I pass along today the way my leadership style evolved. It took a long time. It wasn’t something I innately knew when I started my career, but it became a part of me.”
Finally, Castlin-Gacutan discussed the importance of leading with purpose. She shared her story of losing her daughter, Kennedy, and first husband, Rodney, within two years of each other. She found purpose in her career and in supporting her other children. “Each one of us has a purpose in life,” she said.
Castlin-Gacutan said she knew she wanted to become a teacher from the time she was 6 years old. The interest was sparked by her first-grade teacher, who provided Castlin-Gacutan with the purpose and drive that would lead her career.
Debra Dobkins, dean of the Brenau Women’s College, praised the caliber of speakers for this year’s colloquium.
“These women are passionate about the work they do and dedicated to the people they serve,” Dobkins said. “Each speaker brings expertise, experience and a dynamic engagement with the world, not just in their roles as working women but also in their roles as mothers and daughters, sisters and mentors.”
To see video of the full conference, go to https://livestream.com/brenau.