Hundreds find joy, inspiration at Women’s Leadership Colloquium

Women's Leadership Colloquium

Some 200 people, both in-person and via livestream, participated in Brenau University’s eighth annual Women’s Leadership Colloquium on Friday, March 18, to learn about the power of female leadership.

The colloquium celebrated the “L” year of The Women’s College GOLD Program, which focuses on “Leadership: The Joy in Doing.” Conversations examined the unique potential and challenges of women in leadership positions and featured the stories of three successful women.

The keynote speech from Belle S. Wheelan, the first woman and first African American to serve as president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, was punctuated by laughter and applause as she shared her experiences breaking barriers.

“I grew up in a time of two revolutions: a gender revolution and a racial revolution,” Wheelan said about growing up in the 1960s. “I had people all over telling me I could do anything and I was blessed with talents as well. All you gotta do is just step out there and try it.”

She previously served as the Virginia secretary of education and held other higher education roles, including college presidencies; in many cases, she was the first African American and/or woman to serve in those positions.

Wheelan also shared her top 10 list of tips for success: Believe in yourself; prepare yourself; have close friends outside the organization; stay up on current events; make time for yourself; ask for what you want; laugh at yourself; learn the informal structure of your organization; empower others; know when it’s time to leave.

Joining Wheelan were Alumni Association speaker and Brenau trustee Robin Dudley, WC ‘78, and featured speaker Cay M. Drew, a leadership development facilitator for IBM.

Dudley, a Brenau trustee since 2008, is a retired teacher and owner of R.A. Dudley Nurseries in Thomson, Georgia. She and her husband, Mike, established the Mike and Robin Smith Dudley Nursing Scholarship in 2000. Dudley was inducted into the Brenau University Alumni Hall of Fame in 2020.

Growing up with three deaf siblings created in Dudley a strong desire to serve others through the fields of healthcare and education, and she set specific plans to do so. Dudley encouraged the audience to never stop working toward their goals.

“I’m a product of making good choices throughout my life, working hard and leading by doing and serving. Not just by speaking and showing,” she said. “Personally, I believe that success has nothing to do with what you gain in life, but rather what you can do to help others gain what they need.”

The final speaker of the event, Drew encouraged the audience to have a growth mindset and welcome feedback. In her role for IBM, Drew hosts courses, workshops and one-on-one training for high potential women, executives, managers and MBA students to help them build their leadership strengths with new skills. She warned about self-doubt and asked the audience to “go easy on yourselves.”

“When you sense that self-flagellation, recognize it’s just like an imaginary crow lighting on your shoulder, saying ‘I can’t believe you said that.’ or ‘Why did you do that?’” Drew said. “Can’t. It’s just an imaginary crow, and it has no more power than you allow it. Recognize that and then brush it off your shoulder and remind yourself that you might not be there yet, but you can learn to do better.”

The colloquium was hosted by Debra Dobkins, dean of The Women’s College and interim vice president for student services. The event was made possible in part by support from Onward Reserve, Grace-Gaskins Women’s Studies Endowment Fund and the Brenau Alumni Association Lecture Series.

The ninth annual Women’s Leadership Colloquium is scheduled for March 24, 2023.