Women’s Leadership Panel Addresses Future Leaders

A diverse panel of women leaders at Ramapo answered questions about discrimination, motivation and success to an attentive crowd in the Black Student Union office yesterday. The Women Leadership Panel was sponsored by the BSU and Sigma Sigma Sigma and was a part of Women’s HERstory Month, which comes to a close this week.

The moderators of the panel were President of BSU, Domonique Jarrett, and Katrina Biss, a Tri Sigma sister, both of whom presented a variety of questions for the panelists to answer. The panelists were Brooke Jamison, graduate assistant for the Women’s Center, Kat McGee, director of Affirmative Action and Workplace Compliance, Yovanna Garcia, office manager for the Women’s Center and vice president of the advisory board for off-campus non-profit organization Camp Pride, and Grace Maute, student violence prevention coordinator for the Women’s Center and eboard member of both Feminists United and Active Minds.

“Are there any obstacles you’ve had to overcome, especially being a woman, in getting your leadership position?” Biss asked the panel early on in the event.

The panelists responded by describing the differential treatment they have observed in leadership situations, with men being more encouraged to speak up and be assertive, while women are discouraged and relegated to the sidelines.

“Men can interrupt a conversation and that’s called ‘leadership,’ and women do it and it’s perceived as ‘bitchy,’” McGee pointed out, recalling times when male colleagues felt entitled to interrupt and speak over women, while women were looked down upon for doing the same thing. It was also pointed out that women are socialized to allow men to take on more important roles and can therefore be less inclined to lead.

“We should not take the backseat,” Maute said about women, including herself, who can find it difficult to speak up and make decisions for a group.

The panel was then asked what motivates them, to which Maute responded, “The key is doing things you like to do.”

“Don’t check off boxes and just try to get as many leadership positions as possible. Find things that you really absolutely love and you will be internally motivated,” Maute explained.  

Garcia added that finding a mentor can be a strong motivator and make one’s goals and aspirations seem more feasible against all obstacles. The senior spoke about her personal mentor, Stephanie Hernandez, who was the graduate assistant for the Women’s Center two years ago when Garcia first started working there.

“I saw a lot of myself reflected in her ­– or a lot of herself reflected in me – and I think that things got easier for me to see myself in a leadership position,” Garcia said. “Things got easier for me to want to pursue something, whether it was opportunities that I could never have imagined or whether it was applying to something I never thought I would do.”

One of the last topics of the panel was how to deal with the stress of one’s leadership position and responsibilities. The resounding response was to practice self-care.

“Just having that self-care aspect definitely helps me be able to relax,” said Jamison. She said self-care is good to have “especially if you’ve had a stressful week, but also to kind of refocus yourself on why you’re doing what you’re doing after something overwhelming has happened or if you’re just having a moment of doubt.”

“I thought everybody really perked up and started to listen a little bit more when they were talking about self-care and how it’s a deficit for most women to think about self-care for themselves,” said Dean of Students Melissa Van Der Wall, who was one of a few faculty members in attendance. She said she thought the panel was “terrific.”

“I got to hear a little bit more about the behind the scenes for some of our students and learn about what motivates them as women leaders on campus, and what encourages them, and also what inspires them for the future,” Van Der Wall said.

“It was really good; it taught me a lot and made me more motivated,” said freshman Akosua Amoah, who is also a member of BSU. “I’m having a leadership position in the fall, so it kind of opened my eyes and helps me to understand why it’s so important.”