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Today, Olivet College held the second annual Cultivating Women Leaders event under the theme Pioneering the Future, aimed to help middle school girls to female business professionals develop their leadership skills. The event comes as part of the Olivet College Women’s Leadership Institute and welcomed more than 400 attendees to campus for interactive sessions and leadership training.

“I’m excited to say that Olivet College is leading a movement to address the gender gap in today’s workforce,” said Traci Corey, Olivet College presidential spouse and Women’s Leadership Institute director. “Too often I see high achieving, smart, gifted young ladies that have the world at their feet, doubt and question themselves and their capabilities, when they should believe they are capable of anything. This is truly why I believe in the power of mentorship in developing the women leaders of tomorrow. Mentors play an extraordinarily important role in galvanizing a young woman to aspire to great accomplishments.” Corey has steadfastly advocated for women’s rights, addressing issues head on and encouraging women to work together to make a difference.

Attendees of the event, including current and prospective students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members and female business leaders from Michigan and neighboring states, were given the opportunity to network and receive professional and personal development from Olivet College’s most successful alumnae, as well as Michigan’s finest women business leaders. Key areas critical to successful leadership were identified, and presenters shared personal experiences of obstacles they encountered, and more importantly, how they overcame those challenges.

Adversity is Opportunity

The day was comprised of three sessions, including opportunities to network, interactive communication skills presentations, and the Olivet College Alumnae Panel moderated by Sheri Jones, WLNS Channel 6 News Anchor. Martha Mayhood Mertz, founder of ATHENA International, served as keynote speaker.

Kickoff speaker Margaret Dimond, Ph.D., president and CEO of McLaren Oakland Hospital, opened the event with her definition of pioneering the future, challenging participants to leave their comfort zone. “Remember, adversity is important because I shouldn’t be standing here after all the people in my past told me I did not have what it took to be a leader,” Dimond stated. “I should have said, I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough, I can’t achieve. Adversity is opportunity.”

A speed networking session followed, allowing students to meet with four different women leaders. Attendees later expressed the session afforded them the opportunity to meet face-to-face with role models and icons who otherwise would only be available through the media.

The Olivet College Alumnae Panel included Mona Hinamanu ’17, RELO Direct client service specialist; Cassie McDonald Ross ’13, Agility Physical Therapy and Sports Performance physical therapist; Genise Shelton ’99, Our Children’s Keeper founder and media personality; and Yvonne Caamal Canul ’73, Lansing School District superintendent. Each shared more about how their Olivet College education helped them launch successful careers, especially highlighting the strong female mentors they built relationships with while students.

“I am so passionate about mentoring young men and women because I shared many of the same risk factors to become a victim of sex trafficking as them, like a lack of confidence,” Shelton shared. “I teach my mentees the importance of inner beauty, and target vulnerable issues. I strive to help them affirm who they are first and then build their self-esteem.”

Following the panel, attendees enjoyed lunch and informal networking, as well as a message from Olivet College President Steven M. Corey, Ph.D., and a performance of Whitney Houston’s “I’m Every Woman” by the Olivet College Gospel Choir. Dr. Corey spoke to the impact the Cultivating Women Leaders event has had on campus, which honors the college’s rich tradition of education for all, regardless of gender, race or financial means, and how proud he is to be a part of continuing that history.

The afternoon featured four interactive communication skill presentations by female business leaders.

  • Karen Preston, RTI Surgical director, human resources, drew from personal experiences to present on the topic of confrontation. She emphasized how to be a part of the solution in workplace disputes, and covered strategies to resolve and diffuse situations. “Know your values, and what you will and won’t stand up for,” Preston advised. “It’s important to understand you are only 50 percent in confrontation. There is another person to listen to as well.”
  • The negotiation session touched on effective communication for equal pay for equal work and promotion. Presenters Kay Kossen, Kreis, Enderle, Hudgins & Borsos, P.C. attorney, and Honorable Judge Denise Page Hood, United States District Court chief judge, tapped into their decades of combined experience on the topic to encourage attendees to stay strong, confident and firm in their beliefs. “Build a bank of credibility to draw from later in your career,” Kossen said. “Reputation is very important, as is working really hard at your job, employers notice who goes the extra mile. Start from ground zero and work up, be assertive but not demanding, do something not ordinarily part of your job, go above and beyond, develop a business plan for yourself, and latch onto someone who has a similar career path as you.”
  • Expert communicators Tiffany Dowling, M3 Group president and CEO, and Tricia Foster, CBRE Martin and CBRE Grand Rapids retired senior managing director, shared basic professional communication skills. The duo focused on one of the most important employment topics, pre- and post-interview communication.“If I really like a candidate, I will walk them to their car after the interview,” Foster shared. “It’s my secret weapon to see how detail oriented and organized they are. If their car is a mess, my experience is that they won’t make a very good employee.”
  • Understanding and establishing professional boundaries was also a topic, presented by Kelly Rossman-McKinney, Truscott Rossman CEO and principal, and Paula D. Cunningham, Michigan AARP state director. The two extraordinarily successful and experienced women offered guidelines to help attendees understand what is and isn’t appropriate as leaders in the workplace, utilizing humorous role-playing. “Don’t be afraid to have that conversation and tell someone their actions are inappropriate or make you uncomfortable,” Cunnigham stressed.
Live Authentically

As both founder of ATHENA International and author of “Becoming ATHENA: Eight Principles of Enlightened Leadership,” keynote speaker Martha Mayhood Mertz has formed a global movement fostering and recognizing women’s leadership. Carving out a career in the 1970s, Mertz experienced what many skilled women faced: what was acclaimed in men was often overlooked in women. The more Mertz observed, the more she became convinced that if women’s strengths and contributions as leaders were publicly acknowledged, they could no longer be dismissed. Still today, Mertz continues her mission and ATHENA International has fostered leadership recognition, mentoring and training programs in more than 500 U.S. cities and six foreign countries.

“Living authentically is fundamentally the most important quality of a leader, and especially women leaders, because in the past we haven’t had the type of positions to lead, so how did we do that?” Mertz asked. “We inspire people to do something. We have a vision that is compelling enough for people to listen, and they are attracted to it, and they gather to it, and they complete a project. It wasn’t because they were required to do it, it was because they were inspired, and you cannot inspire someone if you cannot represent the fullness and the truth of who you are.”

Awards and Final Remarks

Following Mertz’s address, certificates were presented to the inaugural OC ATHENA International Women’s Leadership Program participants, recognizing their development throughout the yearlong program. Using their skills and training, these young women will serve as Ment-Hers to the next generation of female leaders at summer camps and other upcoming Women’s Leadership Institute events.

A surprise moment came when Traci Corey was presented with an ATHENA International Award for her dedication to helping raise up other leaders, especially women. “It’s not often I’m left speechless. Thank you, I’ll say that first,” Corey said. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for all the mentors in my life and the help from three amazing women: Delstene Atkinson, special assistant to the president, Lisa Lehman, assistant vice president of admissions, and Maria Davis, Ph.D., provost and dean of the college. Another big thanks to all who have supported this mission.”

Final remarks were given by OC ATHENA International Women’s Leadership Program participants, sharing more about how the program and event have impacted them and their futures. “The ATHENA Women’s Leadership program has created togetherness, fairness and empowerment on our Olivet College campus,” senior Dominique Giroux explained. “As females, we feel empowered to ask questions, seek help, receive help, and more importantly, help others during these sessions guided by successful female leaders in Michigan.”

Olivet College looks forward to the third annual Cultivating Women Leaders event on March 1, 2019!

In case you missed it, check out some incredible moments from the 2018 Cultivating Women Leaders: Pioneering the Future event at Olivet College. These pictures only capture a point in time, but the leadership training and resources participants received will affect the rest of their professional careers and personal journeys!

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