The Power of Female Leaders: Meet Mason Women Who Are Thriving in Leadership Roles

Leadership had always been important to me, but I have a newfound respect for women who attain these incredible leadership roles. This past summer, my sorority gave me the opportunity to attend the Pi Beta Phi leadership Institute. My weekend was filled with inspiring women, women empowerment and a common love for leadership. I came out of it in awe of the power of women. Unfortunately, this awe is not shared by the workforce. According to American Progress, they are only 25% of women as senior-level officials, 20% percent of board seats and are 6% of CEOs. Luckily, GMU has an incredible influx of powerful women who are kicking ass in their roles. I had the opportunity to interview women in different offices and organizations who have proved that leadership is not restricted by gender. In fact, it is empowered by it.

Caroline Thompson

Positions: Senior Peer Advisor for CAART, Director of Programming for Chi Omega

Not only do you teach UNIV 100, but you also train the new peer advisors in the UNIV 330 class. How have these roles made you a better leader?

CT: “I feel like I have learned the vitality of being open minded. All of my students come from different backgrounds and have their own story, and you have to appreciate and respect that. This job has definitely made me more accepting of differences. Also, I’ve learned to appreciate that everyone has their own strength. I love watching people grow, and I’ve learned that it’s something that makes me incredibly happy as a leader.”

As a teacher, do you ever worry about your gender getting in the way of people taking you seriously?

CT: “I teach a lot of athletes, and that can sometimes be difficult for a female teacher. I have to work extra hard for them to get my point across. They assume that I will let everything go because I am a female teacher, which is obviously not the case.  Perhaps it is because many of my students haven’t seen women in anything but a nurturing role, so this new dynamic can be intimidating for some.”

Why do you think female leaders are so important today?

CT: “In my opinion, woman make the world go around. Women have to go constantly go against the grain, which is what makes us so powerful. We are unfortunately not taken as seriously as we deserve. We have to prove ourselves daily, whereas men have always been leaders without being questioned. However, that inequality is what brings women together. Nothing is more powerful than women empowering women. Nothing can stop us after we have that.”

Photo courtesy of Caroline Thompson

Terrica Dang

Positions: Resident Advisor, VP of Events for Mason Ambassadors

You get to run Fall Premier and Spring Preview, two of admissions’ biggest events. What has been the best part about being in such a powerful leadership position?

TD: “The best part for me is just the honor of being given the position. It's rewarding to be one of few girls on the lead team (Lead team includes the president, VP of Visits, and VP of Events). Last year, the lead team consisted of three white males. While I look up to them immensely, It feels rewarding to be part of the process of diversifying the leadership roles in Mason ambassadors. In addition to that, while the responsibility may make me nervous, I’m excited. I am loving the ability of taking everyone’s ideas and incorporating them to make these large events happen.”

What are some misconceptions you think people have about female leaders?

TD: “If we look back to the election, a big debate about Hillary Clinton was that she would not be able to handle emotions. People have this misconceptions that our hormones are out of whack all the time. As women, we know how keep them in check. People forget that guys also have hormone imbalances. Blaming work ethic on biology is a lame excuse for not having women in power.”

Do you think GMU is doing a good job at supporting female leaders?

TD: “I do, actually. We have a great amount of female RAs, two of the three Lead team members of Mason Ambassadors are female, our student body president is female. I think GMU does a great job of diversifying leadership roles and giving women the opportunity to showcase their skills. I’m really grateful I can come here and know I can do whatever I set my mind to.”

Photo courtesy of Terrica Dang

Katherine Quigley

Positions: Chapter President of Pi Beta Phi,  FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) Panhellenic bible study leader, Pi Beta Phi President, Order of Omega, BAM program, Instructional Assistant in Kindergarten at St. Ann Catholic School in Arlington, Virginia. What has been the best part about being a chapter president?

KQ: “There have been a couple.  I strongly believe in transformative leadership, so I love seeing my sisters realize their potential to be great leaders. One of my favorite parts is seeing the girls who will fill my shoes one day grow! In addition, I have seen a personal change within me, and I feel like I have grown as a person.  Lastly, I love being surrounded by empowering women. I get to work with strong women on the Executive Board every day, and the collaboration of all of us is something I look forward to tremendously.”

Does it become hard to manage your role as an authoritarian figure and a friend?

KQ: “Yes! I think when someone becomes a leader, societal isolation comes with it. The higher you go up, the further you have to take a step back, so you can see the larger picture. In the process of putting on your leadership hat, you unfortunately may risk losing some friends. There is this constant pressure from friends to always be perfect, which can be taxing. Especially with being a student leader, I feel like people forget we are students as well. It’s called “student leader” and not “leader student” for a reason.”

You also went to the Pi Beta Phi Leadership Institute. What did you take away from it?

KQ: “I realized that we all struggle with the same things. I think when we see someone as a leader, we expect them to have a fearless pursuit. However, in my opinion, leadership is not a person, it’s a process. The institute helped me realize that I, as a woman, have a unique opportunity to make an difference in other women’s lives. We all have the potential to be great leaders. What sets people apart is the willingness to step into the process.”

Have you had to deal with the stigma of being a “sorority girl?”

KQ: “I have, especially in our current worldview of sororities. I have had to consistently sell my experience for it to be credible. I have to constantly explain to people that being Chapter President is much more than just taking cute pictures with my sisters. I basically run a non-profit of 120 members. Just because my experiences are seen in an certain way, doesn’t mean they are any less special.”

Do you think you have ever been undermined because you were a female leader?

KQ: “I do. I sometimes feel like I am not taken seriously by external organizations because of my gender. I will sometimes makes decisions, and others will think that they have the authority to overstep my decision. Over the past year, I feel like my decisions have been overlooked and walked all over because others think they know what is right.”

Photo Credits: Yuan Qiu, courtesy of Katherine Quigley

Steph Schorr

Positions: Resident Advisor (RA), Head of Operations for Patriot Classic, University Chorale Choreographer

This is your third year as an RA. What have been some hurdles being a woman in a position of power?

SS: “People always assume that because I am a girl, I will be more nurturing and sensitive. I think that is an overgeneralizing stigma attached to women and can take away from our credibility sometimes. That is not my personality type, so that expectation can be really unfair to people like me who are not naturally emotional. In addition, I have always felt that I was replaceable in Mason Housing because there are more female RAs than males, hence they can easily just switch us out. This notion makes me feel less valued than male RAs, even though we all put in the same amount of work.”

Why is being a leader important to you?

SS: “I once had someone tell me that we, as people, often listen to respond, instead of listen to understand. Being in a leadership role has allowed me to truly appreciate the beauty of listening to understand. For me, leadership roles give me the opportunity to hear multiple perspectives, which helps me grow as a person. On a larger scale, however, these different backgrounds and opinions help open up dialogue to much larger conversations that need to be talked about.”

How has being a Resident Advisor challenged you?

SS: “I think the hardest part is trying to keep your biases aside. There are many times where residents will make a mistake, and we fail to distinctify between that mistake and the person themselves. Biases also play a part during roommate conflicts, and it’s my job to make sure the entire process is as fair as possible. It’s very easy to pick sides, and call out a resident for their mistakes. That’s why I constantly have to keep myself in check and be as unbiased as possible.

Photo courtesy of Steph Schorr

Bekah Pettine

Positions: Student Body President, Vice President of Panhellenic Council, Student Representative to the Board of Visitors, Member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors

Were there any preconceived notions you had to face because you were a female in a high position?

BP: “This past year, Student Government had five tickets running last year for president, and I was the only female. This may be sad to read, but I had friends tell me that people may be hesitant to vote for a female president, especially when there are four other males running. I had to really ask myself that even if I know I can do the job well, will people feel comfortable voting for a female leader? It was a hard time for me to hear that people who did know my capabilities tell me I might not get the position because I come from a certain demographic. I recalled a time my freshman year when one of my female professors stated that oftentime women have to be 5x better than their male competition to be viewed as equal and I realized it held true.”

What do you think is the best part of being a female leader?

BP: “You meet so many incredible female leaders during the process of finding your passion. Any women that is a leader, regardless of her position, will have a connection with another female leader. There is this common idea of resiliency and breaking barriers between them. There's something so powerful about being in a room full of women who are like minded and have a common goal, and are using their potential to achieve it.”

Do you think you attaining arguably the highest position an undergraduate can get shows how far we come? Or is there room for improvement?

BP: “There is always room for improvement. I feel like part of the problem of working on feminist issues is that people simply don’t recognize them. There have been so many times where I could be talking to a group of people, and the men will be talking over me. It takes another man to notice and call it out to get the appropriate response. Exposing it is the first step. Highlighting these issues and simply being transparent will help other people piece it together.”

What advice do you have for women who aspire to attain leadership roles someday?

BP: “Your college experience is what you make of it. If you feel passionate about something, start as soon as possible. How you choose to spend your day is how you will spend your life. Live in the now. Freshman year is the time to figure out what you are interested and passionate in, and spend the rest of your college career working towards that.”

Photo courtesy of Bekah Pettine

Remember collegiettes, #EmpoweredWomenEmpowerWomen.