TOWERRR sponsors Women’s Leadership Panel

Four community leaders urged a crowd to take advantage of leadership opportunities, seek mentors, and develop networks on Wednesday evening, but more than the advice they offered, the panelists had their gender in common. TOWERR (The Organization of Women Exemplifying Reason and Responsibility) hosted the panel discussion, entitled, “Women in Leadership” in the Sugar Maple Ballroom last Wednesday evening. Panelists Lisa Ventriss, CEO of Vermont Business Roundtable, Vermont Representative Rachel Weston, Vermont Senator Diane Snelling, and professor Jane Knodell shared their stories. They spoke to a largely female crowd on issues ranging from Hillary Clinton to coping with political loss. Weston began her career in activism as a 9-year-old, when she wrote a letter to Saddam Hussein that said, “Don’t you know you shouldn’t kill people for oil.” Her interest in social justice grew and while working toward her masters in public administration at UVM, she took former Vermont Governor Madeline Kunin’s class, “Women, Leadership and Politics.” Weston said that this class drove her interest in politics as a means of social change in addition to protesting and nonprofit work, and after graduating she became the youngest member in the state legislature. Lisa Ventriss also dated the development of her political thinking to a historical event. “My signature moment was my first summer at UVM, towards the end of the Vietnam War when I watched the Watergate hearings.” Ventriss went on to get her masters in public administration from UVM, and is now the CEO of Vermont Business Roundtable, which is a CEO membership organization that works to “address long range complex policy issues that Vermonters face,” she said. Ventriss emphasized the importance of challenging oneself and taking advantage of opportunities. “My challenge to you is when someone comes up to you and asks you ‘do you want to this thing, and own that project’, say yes.” As a faculty member in the Department of Economics as UVM, when the Chair of the department asked Jane Knodell to undertake a research project about intestate banking, she accepted the opportunity. Knodell was soon an expert, “before I knew it I was testifying,” she said. Ventriss laid out some recommendations for coping with an overwhelming opportunity.”If you think ‘how am I going to do this?’ The first rule is ‘don’t panic’. Be confident in your abilities … It is that kind of confidence that you exude that helps people also think that you can do the things you cannot do,” Ventriss said. State Senator Diane Snelling had a history of pulling positive attributes out of challenging situations. Both of Snelling’s parents were involved in local politics, she said. Her father represented Shelburne in the legislature, however when he ran for governor and lieutenant governor, he lost. “[When I was growing up] he was very public, very intense, but he was publicly losing,” Snelling said. “I think that was a very good starting point for me to go into politics.” Snelling said she is an artist first and foremost, but after serving on her town selectboard she was appointed by Governor Howard Dean to replace her mother in the legislature when she could not finish her term. Snelling ran for reelection when the term was up, though she said she never thought she would be in politics. While the success of the four panelists prove that the local community is receptive of women in leadership positions, they questioned whether the country would be ready for a female president. “There are people out there who would be really frightened to see a woman become president,” Knodell said. Though they all agreed that her campaign is monumental. “This is a woman who is running in her own right. I find it to be such an exciting turning point for women in American history, even if she doesn’t get the nomination,” Weston said. “It’s very historic,” Ventriss said. “She started breaking some glass ceilings back in the 1990s.” Whether Clinton needed to break ceilings for the audience of young, ambitious women, or whether they would do it themselves, listeners left the panel discussion with motivation from the positive role models assembled by TOWERR “We hope that you are encouraged to be proud of who you are,” TOWERR secretary Katherine Nopper said in closing, “and that you are inspired by the wisdom that you heard tonight.”