What happens when a woman takes power?

Women in Leadership club launches fourth-annual forum


Gracie Clawson

This question, sung by Bella Voce, kicked off the fourth-annual Women In Leadership forum this Friday, April 8th. At this event, students had the opportunity to listen and learn from five powerful women, all from the Lancaster area. Keynote speaker Andrea Shirk kicked off the event, followed by a Q&A with four panelists; Kiandra Steffy, Ankita Sridhar, Jasmyne King, and Carol Brian.

Andrea Shirk, the president and CEO of Rock Lititz, a production company that hosts numerous musical artists, began the forum by sharing her experiences as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field. Shirk was the first in her family to go to college pushed boundaries by choosing to enter engineering. She recalled being encouraged to pursue teaching, simply because it was considered a more feminine profession. During her time in high school, women weren’t expected to do much else. In fact, when her guidance counselor mentioned other paths, Shirk thought engineering was conducting trains.

Shirk began her career at Lockheed Martin and recalled that she was usually the only woman in the room. She originally believed, “I just gotta think like a man–I just gotta act like the guys I work with. I’ll just adjust and be totally fine.”

However, Shirk soon came to realize this wasn’t true. “My workplace is lucky there is a woman in this role,” Shirk began telling herself. Rather than dismissing her talents, she began to acknowledge their value and now encourages other young women to do the same. “Be proud of what you bring to your workforce. Sometimes it’s gonna be toughness and sometimes it’s gonna be empathy,” she advised. “I have been my most successful when I was just truly me.”

As Shirk concluded her speech, the forum turned its attention to the other four panelists for a question-and-answer session. Steffy, a lawyer; Sridhar, a resident for family practice; Jasmyne, an activist; and Brian, a financial advisor. Each of these women shared their struggles and successes as women in roles typically held by men.

Club members Keira O’Neal and Alicia Blanco kicked off the question-and-answer session by having the panelists define a leader. “Someone who is confident. Someone who is selfless. Leadership comes from a place of humbleness,” Steffy shared. Brian added that leaders are meant to create a vision for their team and allow the members some freedom.

For women, leadership can be an even heavier load when coupled with home life. Steffy, a mother of two, has to lead at work and at home. She acknowledged that it is often difficult to have a work-life balance but makes sure to always put her family first. Brian, however, works on commission and shared that sometimes interrupting family time for a work call is necessary.

This was one of the only topics where the panelists shared different perspectives. For most of the forum, they were on the same page, especially when asked to detail some adversities they’ve faced in their professions.

Sridhar shared that on several occasions she has been dismissed in favor of a man, even when she had spent more time in school. As a medical resident, she often works with younger students. Sridhar recalled that she once entered a room with a younger, male student, and the patient immediately turned to the man. “People always assume the person in the room who knows the most is the male,” said Sridhar.

Despite this stereotype, the panelists had no trouble listing numerous influential women in their lives. For Steffy, her most recent inspiration is now-Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, recently appointed to the Supreme Court as the first black woman to serve. Sridhar pointed to her mom as her biggest influence, especially because she was her dance teacher as a child. King took a similar path, calling her eighteen-year-old daughter her greatest influence. As a teen mom, King said her daughter’s success inspires her every day. Brian finished off the question by listing multiple female influences, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Amelia Earhart, Oprah, and Lady Gaga.

The next topic the panelists dove into was their advice for young women. Steffy started by explaining, “Your life’s path and the things that you experience are going to shape who you are becoming.” King stressed that no one is ever done growing. Sridhar added that it’s important to take life day-by-day. “Tomorrow is gonna set the path for the day after that,” she said. Brian continued, telling the audience to practice leadership. “If you want that position, start working and acting like you’ve already got it,” she said.

Shirk encourages all students to “[b]e proud of what you bring to your workforce. Sometimes it’s gonna be toughness and sometimes it’s gonna be empathy.” These two attributes came together to represent what Women In Leadership means to many of the club’s members and the audience.