About 200 executive board members of the University’s Panhellenic Association sororities attended a seminar titled “Women Leading Women” yesterday afternoon to discuss the importance of women leadership.
Held at the Michigan League Ballroom, the event was exclusively for sorority executive board members. In addition to discussing women’s leadership, participants focused on teamwork. Laura Blake Jones, the University’s dean of students, spoke to the group about obstacles women leaders face today and how women can overcome them.
Following Jones’s speech, the panel broke up into various sessions for each executive position. LSA junior Sarah Smith, Panhel’s vice president of public relations and a Michigan Daily columnist, said though some women have different official titles, they often perform the same duties in the chapters.
“The event is a chance for sorority leaders to meet and collaborate with each other on issues that all these chapters are facing,” Smith said.
Mary Beth Seiler, director of University Greek Life, said in an interview at the event that Panhel holds a Women Leading Women event every year.
This year’s event was different than previous years’, Seiler said, because a group of experts from the University and Ann Arbor community came to speak during the breakout sessions. One of the experts, University Assistant General Counsel Maya Kobersy, spoke to the sorority presidents about risk management and liability issues.
Before the breakout sessions began, Jones emphasized how women can benefit from working together.
“The value and relationships of sisterhood that this group so clearly espouses and embodies has been a big part of my success,” she said.
Following the event, Jones said she hopes her own professional experiences can inspire women.
“As a woman who has worked in leadership roles for a long time, it’s rewarding to be able to give back and encourage others to think about all the possibilities that are offered to them.”
Jones said throughout her career, she’s worked hard to prove she’s more than just compassionate and empathetic — traits she said were stereotypically associated with women in the workplace. However, she added that women need to find a balance between being too nurturing and too stoic.
“Some of the things that I put in my speech have rung true in my career,” Jones said. “I’ve seen colleagues of mine who are women who went so far to avoid that stereotype that they’ve come across … as not feeling and uncaring.”
Still, in her speech, Jones said it is often hard for women to stray from what is traditionally expected of them.
“There’s still powerful scripts that exist in our society (in terms of) stereotypes for women,” Jones said. “Deviating from what’s still considered to be the norm for women can be costly.”
Over the course of her time in the workplace, Jones told the attendees, that women have come a long way in terms of employment opportunities.
“You know that your future has always included the opportunity to be mothers, daughters, sisters and friends,” Jones said “Your Michigan experience and today’s opportunities that exist for women also means you can be doctors, lawyers, teachers, college presidents, corporate executives, the Speaker of the House (and) state senators.”
The University community contains prime examples of women leaders, Jones said. She specifically mentioned University President Mary Sue Coleman and E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for Student Affairs, as inspirational women.
“(Coleman) embodies the fact that more and more women are in executive positions on college university campuses across the country,” Jones said.
Though women have made tremendous strides in recent years, they are still subject to certain stigmas and prejudices, Jones said. To overcome these challenges, she said she believes women of this generation need to continue to capitalize on the bonds and foundations that were built by previous generations of women.
“As women we do need to be champions and supporters of each other,” she said.
— Daily Staff Reporter Claire Hall contributed to this report.