TU celebrates Women’s Leadership Collective Launch, hosts Presidential Scholar Forum

University broadens initiative to serve women at high school, collegiate and mid-career levels

By Megan Bradshaw and Rebecca Kirkman on April 5, 2019

Students with Mary Ellen Barbera
Students Margot Milburn, Suphitha Phawapoothanon and Madeleine Phillips speak with Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals Mary Ellen Barbera at the Women's Leadership Collective Launch on April 4, 2019.

In a day focused on celebrating and inspiring women leaders, a targeted group of about 100 Towson University students attended the Women’s Leadership Collective Launch. They were joined by more than 300 leaders from the community for the Presidential Scholar Forum: Voices of Women and the Missing 33%.

Spearheaded by TU Presidential Scholar Nancy Grasmick, the Women’s Leadership Collective encompasses programs designed to educate and inspire women at the high school, collegiate and mid-career levels.

The collective builds on TU's existing Professional Leadership Program for Women, a five-month professional development program for mid-career women offered through the Division of Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research.

“This is an initiative for TU that came from President Kim Schatzel,” said Grasmick of the Women's Leadership Collective. “It has three parts to it: The first is identifying young women who are juniors and seniors in high school who have shown potential as leaders. The second part focuses on students on campus who have demonstrated leadership interest. And then the third part is the continuation and expansion of the external women’s leadership program that is in its fifth cohort.”

Grasmick hopes the day’s events signal TU’s interest in nurturing female leaders to the wider community. “We really wanted to launch [the collective] with the larger community, to let them know that Towson University is undertaking this important topic, and that it will be an ongoing initiative.”

Towson University is uniquely suited to spearhead this effort, Grasmick says. “Not only are we centered in a large community where we have unprecedented access to leaders, both internal and external, but we have the support of a very dynamic woman leader in Dr. Schatzel.”

Launching the Women’s Leadership Collective

Thursday’s kickoff event featured a panel with Violet Apple, CEO of Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals and TU alumna Mary Ellen Barbera and Iris Sobchak of the consulting firm Leading Women.

Moderated by Kim Fabian of Junior Achievement of Central Maryland, the panelists shared personal stories and encouraged the young women in the room to take risks, and the young men to serve as allies to women.

Women's Leadership Collective panel
The Women's Leadership Collective Launch panel with Nancy Grasmick

“Be intentional about putting yourself in uncomfortable positions,” said Apple in response to a question about what college students can do now to continue on the leadership path. “Those are the kinds of things that will really help you in your career.”

After the panel, the students—recommended by faculty and invited to the collective launch because of their demonstrated leadership on campus—broke into groups for more intimate conversations with each panelist.

In a relaxed and lively breakout conversation, Barbera focused on the importance of building self-confidence and shared her experiences while asking students to do the same. Apple told students about the value of taking risks in her own life, and how those risks led her to career opportunities. And Sobchak emphasized the role ethics have played in her career.

With this and following collective events, Grasmick hopes to develop a pipeline of well-equipped female leaders from high school to the professional world.

“One of the primary goals will be the continuation for the external leadership program and to identify and galvanize the women on campus who have demonstrated leadership. We’ll take those juniors and seniors in high school and validate what they’re [doing.] But [also encourage them] to continue on this journey as they matriculate into higher education and on to the world of work,” says Grasmick. “And to emphasize that Towson is a place where you could come that would nurture these leadership skills.”

Kelly Lockwood Primus standing on a stage
Kelly Lockwood Primus, president and COO of Leading Women

Presidential Scholar Signature Forum: Voices of Women and The Missing 33%™

Grasmick’s Women’s Leadership Collective events continued Thursday afternoon with the Presidential Scholar Forum.

The forum events featured national experts who presented compelling research on pressing issues.

Ron Shapiro at podium
Negotiation expert Ron Shapiro

Negotiation expert Ron Shapiro and President and COO of Leading Women Kelly Lockwood Primus shared the stage to discuss the experience of women aiming for leadership roles and The Missing 33%™, respectively.

Towson University President Kim Schatzel spoke at the beginning of the event, noting that as one of the two percent of university presidents nationwide who have significant C-suite and academic experience, it was her “pleasure and responsibility to invest in women’s leadership.”

She spoke of the growing necessity of C-suite skills for higher education leadership, citing not only TU’s academic growth and excellence but also its expansion on campus and into downtown Towson—particularly with the recent long-term lease of the former Maryland National Guard Armory.

Shapiro began his talk by referencing a 1979 Daily Record newspaper article about the obstacles women faced reaching leadership positions and noting how similar it was to articles he reads today. He relayed insights on female leadership shared with him from women in his life, including one from a Chinese immigrant to Australia who served on a cruise ship crew but hoped to become a naturalist:

“Seeing women hold leadership roles traditionally held by men gives me hope.”

Lockwood Primus and Leading Women define leadership as “using the greatness in you to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes by engaging the greatness in others.”

She noted that women are traditionally highly rated in the first and third parts of that definition (using and engaging greatness) but are perceived to be lacking in the middle third—the missing 33%—which is what is needed to make the leap to senior leadership.

Lockwood Primus asked the over 300 people in attendance to think of the best career advice they ever received. Only eight people raised their hands when she asked if that advice pertained to outcomes.

She closed her talk by giving attendees advice for middle management and senior level/executive advice emphasizing developing business acumen, compiling a track record of strategic decisions and taking actions based on the story the organization’s finances tell.

This story is related to several of President Schatzel's priorities for Towson University.