Leading GW in the 21st Century

April 26, 2022

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The Women’s Leadership Program invited some of GW’s influential deans to be our special guest panelists for our “Leading GW in the 21st Century” symposium. The speakers included Alyssa Ayres the Dean of The Elliott School of International Affairs, Dayna Bowen Matthew the Dean of Law, and Lauren Onkey the Director of The Corcoran School of the Arts and Design. The panel was focused on how these women are creating and promoting great change for the community and university. WLP students shared their thoughts on this symposium in the following series of reflections.

Student one: “I loved hearing three women, especially three women who work at GW, share their experience and lessons learned on leadership. One specific take away that I found key was the idea that a leader needs to pick their battles. Leaders will not be able to handle everything at once or accomplish everything they want to do in only a small amount of time. Instead, it is better to focus on the things that can be fixed, amended, and made better, rather than trying to accomplish everything at once.”

Student two: “I think the ideas that resonated with me most in this conversation were the ideas surrounding equity. Dr. Onkey’s criticism of mission statements as an empty promise for diversity was significant because it reinforced the idea that diversity needs to start with diverse people getting the chance to make executive decisions. Diversity won’t be achieved when it’s up to people who historically advocate for only one demographic. 

I think this conversation related to a lot of the diversity and leadership conversations we've had this year which have all been extremely beneficial to me. I’ve never talked about diversity this much in other leadership programs but through the speakers we’ve had this year, I’ve been able to fully realize what I will look like as a diverse leader. Many minority speakers this year have given me a great deal of confidence and taught me not to let the demographics of a room scare you.”

Student three: “One common thread throughout the experiences of all of the panelists was the idea of keeping your options open and being open to change or new ideas. This is something that, across the board, symposium speakers have addressed, with countless stories mentioning that the unexpected opportunity can lead to unexpected success. As both a leader and college student, this idea of being welcoming to new opportunities is important in my own development. Though I’ve known I’ve had an interest in art therapy since my freshman year of high school, hearing stories where peoples’ major and career prospects is important as it reminds me to check in with myself. These stories reinforce that I don’t have to feel beholden to a single plan of what I see myself doing in the future; even though my passions have stayed consistent, the ways in which I want to apply them change.”

Student four: “I believe one of the most important thoughts to take from the night was that there is no one value that a leader has to have. All three panelists had different responses to the question about leadership values. The dean of the law school spoke about the need to have courage and listening to others as being extremely important. You need to have a delicate balance between knowing when you are in the right but also know when to take the advice of others. Additionally, the concept that we are trying to fix the world for future women leaders was a very empowering thought. In the past women have had to deal with a lot more harassment than most of us have seen and we must continue to build from their legacy as well as create a space for the future women leaders. Of course, the Women’s Leadership Program is definitely one of the best places to start on that goal.”