It was a thrill to receive one of three Women in Leadership awards from Zonta Club of Jamestown. The presentations from other award recipients and from the scholarship winners were inspiring! The organizer asked me to post my remarks, so here they are. Thank you, again, to Zonta for this honor and for a moving evening.
It is an honor to receive this award from Zonta, whose mission is empowering women through service and advocacy. Because this is a Women in Leadership Award, I would like to focus my comments on two things: women and leadership.
I don’t recall the date, but I can tell you the exact moment I became a feminist. I was nine years old. My older brother had recently acquired a paper route, which in the late 1960’s was a great opportunity for kids to earn some spending money. So I wanted a paper route. Alas, I was informed that girls did not have paper routes. Just boys had paper routes in those days. “It’s not fair!” cried my 9-year-old self, and so a crusader for social justice was born.
Even as a child I knew in my brain and my heart that girls could do anything boys could do. My three sisters and I proved it daily to our one brother. Ever since then I have had an acute sense for disparity and contradiction, and have been an advocate for equality: in the home, in the workplace, and in the community. Deep within my psyche it’s ingrained that we still need the word “feminist” and the women’s movement to remind us that our quest for parity didn’t stop when suffragists won the right to vote in 1920, or in 1972 when Title IX was enacted prohibiting sex discrimination in federally supported education programs. There are mountains left to climb, including the whole issue of equal pay for equal work.
I was not the first woman to work in radio news in Jamestown. Far from it. Many women had come before me in that role. I was the first woman to be news director at a local radio station. But let me tell you about an even more exciting prospect than being first. It’s the day when “first” no longer counts. I look forward to a time when women have filled as many top roles as men across all fields in community service, government, and across all economic sectors; and diversity is routine instead of being called out as some type of show. That’s when we will actually judge each other based on skills and capacity and readiness and passion… and not on gender, or sexual orientation, or race, or religion.
On a recent late-night Facetime call with one of our daughters she was soul-searching about a problem she faced, and she said, “When men want something they just go for it.” She is generally correct. But sometimes as women we defer. Every day can be a struggle to engage and make a difference, and even an enlightened young woman like my daughter sometimes toils with the disparity. Sometimes people who are still considered underdogs or “others” in our society purposely take a step back instead of forward. We don’t always assert ourselves. But we should. We should stand up, speak out, and be heard and seen. Even when it’s hard. Because our perspective matters. Our energy matters. Our effort matters. Note to all women: You Matter.
Note to younger women especially: your lives are just beginning and wherever you go and whatever you do I hope you will carry yourself with personal integrity, strength, and a sense that you can make a difference. I hope you will assert yourselves with dignity.
Leadership skills are sometimes defined as the ability to delegate or inspire. If you’re in a leadership position some may see you as having power. Power has never been in my wheelhouse. But communication is, and I do believe in the power of strong communication skills. It has been my pleasure to put my skills to work with numerous people over the years to do some good. In the case of my twelve years working for United Way that “help” ran to the tune of over fourteen-million dollars for programs that impacted countless lives in our community. On my current career path I serve businesses and communities all around Chautauqua County by working to create a stronger economic climate. Through my current volunteer work, I help to raise funds for the Chautauqua Blind Association so that children can have eye exams and get the glasses they need to learn in school.
None of us makes it through life on our own. Even those of us who grew from being shy little kids to interviewing governors and senators had help from others. I was fortunate to have some amazing mentors and I have sincere gratitude for those people who consistently believed I was capable and showed me how to respect the nuances of language and uphold my personal principles in my work; to my family for constantly challenging me to think and keep learning; and to my husband for his endless love and support.
In my lexicon, to lead means to help or to serve. Most of us don’t set out to lead, but we often set out to help. We may serve physically, intellectually, or both. But I can guarantee one thing: each woman in this room is helping to forge a path so that others can walk more comfortably in your footsteps.
You are all leaders and I am humbled by the recognition. Thank you very much.