Holding a leadership position as a woman is an impressive achievement, but one that comes with many challenges. Women are incredibly underrepresented in executive-level positions and make up just 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Even more, less than five percent of executive or senior-level officials and managers in S&P 500 companies are women of color. The intersectionality of race and gender is hard to ignore when it comes to leadership positions. Women have to face extra obstacles when climbing the ranks within a company, and many people cast doubt on whether they are qualified to hold top-ranked positions.
In order to shed light on these challenges and highlight the work women leaders at UConn are doing, the Women’s Center and USG co-sponsored a Women’s Leadership Panel as part of the Cultural Appreciation Series. Student leaders across many different organizations shared their own journeys to becoming successful female leaders in addition to the obstacles they have faced along the way.
“The best leadership positions … are the ones where you’re surrounded with people who care about you unapologetically,” Mita Kale, a seventh-semester ecology and evolutionary biology major, said.
Kale has been involved with the Rainbow Center as a Team Leader for the past two years and is the president of Revolution Against Rape, an organization that strives to educate the community about the prevalence of sexual assault in society and work toward ending rape culture. Other panelists echoed her thoughts and encouraged female students to surround themselves with a tight-knit community of friends and family who will support their leadership endeavors.
“I was definitely a little bit hesitant to apply for such a large position because the people who I was up against had a lot more experience than I did,” Zoe Butchen, a fifth-semester organizational dynamics and leadership major, and president of the Panhellenic Council, said. “But I would say finding good mentors and people who believe in you was the most transformative part of it for me.”
As president, Butchen oversees nine organizations with a combined membership total of over 1,000 women. Though this might seem like a daunting task, she has had many important female role models in her life who have allowed her to build the confidence that it is necessary to be in charge of such a large group of women. She encouraged women to use the advice and guidance they have received from others to help people looking to become involved in leadership positions and always work toward uplifting female voices.
“You remember the people who inspired you and who tell you that you’re great, so be that person for someone else,” Butchen said.
Strong and outspoken women leaders are often criticized as being aggressive, whereas it is deemed acceptable for their male counterparts to act in similar ways. This can lead to a toxic work environment where women’s voices are being silenced.
“Stop censoring yourself,” Neha Kataria, a third-semester political science major, said. “You are not being aggressive, you are not being angry, you are speaking your truth and people are afraid of that because they know you have the power to take them down.”
Being confident in yourself and your abilities are two valuable traits to have when being a female leader. On many occasions, you might find yourself walking into a room full of men, so always make sure to be prepared to be underrepresented — but do not allow this to stop you from sharing your ideas and perspectives.
“Your voice is so valuable and needs to be heard,” Kataria said. “So if people aren’t listening that’s not a time to step down, that’s a time to be louder.”
Although being a female leader comes with many added challenges, all panelists agreed that they have learned so much about themselves and others through becoming more involved in their respective organizations. Getting involved, in whatever leadership capacity, is a step in the right direction toward becoming an empowered female leader.
“I think the main thing is finding the confidence to take on those positions,” Archeline Youte, a seventh-semester political science and urban studies major, said. “We just have to know and believe in ourselves.”