Lauren Levy Reflection

Once upon a time, I felt certain that leaders were born, not made. I believed that only certain kinds of people with specific personality types were suited for leadership roles. The people in positions of leadership around me reinforced this perception.

I am grateful to the UMBrella Program at UMB for providing me with the opportunity to attend the Association of College Unions International 2018 Women’s Leadership Institute. It was a tremendously rewarding and transformative experience in many ways. At minimum, it represented the culmination of a shift in my thinking on leadership, about what that word really means, and what it means for me personally as an individual, as a woman, and as a professional.

One of the key themes of the conference was the importance of executive presence to career advancement. Sylvia Hewlett defines it as “the aura of confidence and competence that convinces others that you deserve to be in charge.” As conference presenters reminded us, this can be a challenging path for women to navigate. Projecting an image that comports with traditional ideas of leadership can feel inauthentic, women may lack sponsors to provide critical feedback, and communication styles may be received differently depending on gender. Successfully navigating these challenges, however, helps to expand the perception of “traditional” leadership and creates opportunities for others. The first step in projecting executive presence is recognizing one’s own capacity to be a leader and making the decision to accept that challenge and responsibility.

Strategic decision-making in the career context was in fact another key theme of the conference. In the workplace, in the community and at home, women are often pulled in many different directions. It can be difficult to say no to certain opportunities or requests for assistance but overcommitting can result in substandard contributions and burnout. One of the most important lessons of the conference for me was to spend time working on the things I truly care about. I often spend a lot of time working on things because they are things I think I should do rather than things I want to do. As I continue to refine my goals for my career, I need to stay focused on the things that are truly important to me.

A final theme of the conference that resonated with me was the need for women to support each other in order to achieve meaningful representation at the highest levels of our organizations. I have been fortunate to work with many strong, accomplished women leaders at UMB and elsewhere. I have always been grateful for their willingness to support and create opportunity for those in earlier stages of professional development.

I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to meet and get to know Michelle Peralta, my fellow attendee from UMB. In keeping with WLI’s theme of women supporting women, Michelle provided me with valuable advice and guidance during our discussions of career paths and goals. I am truly inspired by the younger generation of women in attendance at WLI, including Michelle, in particular their sense of agency and strong desire to make a meaningful impact on their personal and professional communities.

My experience at WLI has strengthened my commitment to advocating for women in leadership roles and supporting diverse voices in decision making at all levels. Thank you to the UMBrella Group for the opportunity. I feel very fortunate to work for an institution that recognizes the need for women in leadership and supports their advancement.

-Lauren Levy