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Leadership

Women Empowering Women: Inspirations and Resources from Seasoned Female Leaders

Seasoned female leaders across fields and sectors in Indy share inspirations to draw from, issues facing women today, and resources and advice for bold leadership.

Women's History Month header

March 18, 2020

In our extended network, women are championing female leadership across Indy. We’re honored to have many seasoned female alumni and supporters who are driving change for equity in classrooms and schools, as well as in every major sector and field that impacts our students and families. 

Below, our female leaders share their greatest inspirations, call out some of the issues that continue to challenge women, and provide skills and resources for ongoing support and growth. These voices include:

Drawing from Inspiration

Trailblazers paving the path for future female leaders

“Our city and state are full of tremendous female leaders who are paving the way for the next generation to continue the arc of progress and serve our community. Aleesia Johnson (New Jersey ’02), the Superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, has been a long-time inspiration to me. She coached me through my second year of teaching at IPS, and I have learned from her courage to have tough conversations and stay relentlessly focused on what is best for children.” -Stephanie

 “My most recent inspiration is poet, writer, and activist Mari Evans because of the education reform work she did for Indy. Evans and others like her keep me going in pursuit of closing the racial diversity gap in our classrooms. I’m in classrooms often, and students are wide-eyed when I walk in because they’re not used to teachers of color. This reality encourages me to move forward. Whatever work I do, I will continue to support increasing the number of teachers of color and focus on changing, and expanding, teachers’ mindsets.” -Allissa

Female mentors and colleagues who encourage, support, and empower

“I am fortunate to have been mentored by two tremendous local business leaders: Bridget Boyle, Vice President of Human Resources North America at Roche Diagnostics, and Joyce Irwin, Community Health Network Foundation President and CEO. These women encourage me to do more than I think is possible and intentionally equip other women to lead. Just as critical are the amazing female leaders that surround me at Ascend and push me to be my best self everyday.” -Stephanie

“My deceased mother. She had a heart of giving and I hope to carry on that tradition in my family.” -Cindy

“I am incredibly inspired by women leaders of color in education and within my organization in particular. When I see them helping to shape the future of our organization with a very clear-eyed focus on students and communities, it gives me permission to also be unapologetic about who we do this work for.” -JuDonne

“I have a voice to speak on behalf of other women, and I’m proud to use it in every room I’m in.”

Tiffany Benjamin

Lilly Foundation

Navigating Challenges that Disproportionately Affect Women

Work-life balance

“As a mother of three young children, I often think finding balance – both professionally and personally – can be challenging. We need to ensure more workplaces appreciate that the value of their employees isn’t based on the number of continuous hours they sit at a desk, but on the quality of their work and their engagement and commitment to an organization’s mission. At Lilly, last year we expanded parental leave to better accommodate all our employees and support them in achieving their personal and professional goals.” -Tiffany

“Getting up at 6am, pumping, feeding my kids, and getting my family out the door. Dropping my three kids off at daycare, then going straight to work and being on right away. It’s great when I can be a mom from 6am-8am, then work from 8am-5pm, but often times these two things collide. One day when I put my phone down, one of my youngest daughters Mari stretched and smiled; I would’ve missed that if I’d been in my cell phone. I’m also an individual and a partner. Sometimes I have to re-center and determine priorities before I can move forward because there are a lot of things pulling on my mind and time.” -Allissa

Double standards in the workplace

“Women are making strides in representation in leadership roles, college-going rates, advanced degrees, and so on. At the same time, I struggle to understand and overcome the impossible double standard women face in the workplace: we are supposed to direct others without being bossy, give difficult feedback while being nurturing, and lead passionately without emotion. We must develop cohesive, authentic female communities that encourage open discussions about these experiences so that we can support each other while shattering these glass ceilings.” -Stephanie

Pursuing Habits and Resources for Success

Ongoing learning and self-development

“I am always reading, taking workshops, talking with people who know more than I do about topics that interest me. If there is an opportunity where I think I can be helpful, I ask to get involved. I'm passionate and enthusiastic and am a pretty good public speaker. I also listen and try to be a connector for people.” -Marianne

Reading books and listening to podcasts that talk about leadership and work. The Women at Work podcast by HBR highlights a diverse set of stories and voices while providing ideas for how to deal with the variety of difficult situations women face.” -Stephanie

Supporting and leaning on other women

“Build a cabinet and a support network of other women in your organization or industry that can help you process your experiences. In my current cabinet sits my executive coach, a former manager who knows my work well, a mentor whose work I aspire to emulate, and a critical friend who I know will tell me the truth about how I am showing up. My network is much larger and includes other women I meet at conferences or get connected to by mutual friends who I know will understand some of the pressures I am under as a leader but who are there to just listen.” -JuDonne

“I think it’s important to sit down and talk to people about what their hopes and aspirations are and truly invest in who they want to be. Sometimes women wait to be asked to be considered for roles, and I view it as my job to help all employees take ownership of their career. I have a voice to speak on behalf of other women, and I’m proud to use it in every room I’m in.” -Tiffany

“I actively support organizations that serve women and girls. I founded the Women's Leadership program at United Way of Central Indiana to assist more women be prepared to serve on boards. If a young woman asks to meet with me, I always make myself available and offer whatever advice I can.” -Marianne

“I strongly believe in networking. I have been introduced to so many influential women and men in our community who serve on boards and committees with me; I enjoy getting to meet with them and talk about how we can come together and make the world a better place.” -Cindy

Learn More

Want to hear more from each of the leaders above? Click on their names at the top of this story to see a full Q&A.