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Female professionals address workplace issues

Mel Flanagan | Thursday, November 15, 2012

Four successful women shared their experiences as females in the professional world Wednesday evening at the Women in Leadership panel in Flanner Hall.

Jean T. Collier, Notre Dame class of 1983, discussed her experience as an auditor at General Electric. Retired from GE, she now serves as the senior corporate advisor for Corporate and Foundation Relations in the Notre Dame Office of Development.

“The reason I raise my hand to be a leader is more often than not because I want the ability to pick a team and bring people together and have an impact,” Collier said. “Oftentimes I’ll use the ability to connect people and start a conversation that brings skills out of other people.”

Lieutenant General Carol A. Mutter agreed there is a huge reward in leading a team that works toward a goal.

Mutter retired from the Marine Corps in 1999 after serving for 32 years in a variety of leadership roles. Her last duty was as deputy chief of staff for Manpower and Reserve Affairs in Washington, D.C.

“Helping people grow and being able to get them to work together accomplishing something and setting goals … there’s a lot of feeling of reward from that,” she said.

Despite recent acceptance of females into previously male-dominated fields, Mutter said gender perceptions were extremely different when she was commissioned in 1967.

At the time, women constituted only one percent of the Marine Corps and were just beginning to enter the various divisions in the organization, Mutter said.

“The first office I went to, there were female pin-ups all over the place,” Mutter said. “This was the late 60s and we’re far beyond that now … but you kind of work through those things, and I threatened one day to put up a male pin up.”

Kate Wilson Voelker, a 1991 graduate of Saint Mary’s, said although her field was not male-dominated, she still had negative encounters because she was female. Voelker has worked for a series of small not-for-profit and for-profit organizations.

“When I was pregnant, a man patted me on the stomach and I was really, really, embarrassed,” she said. “I’ll never forget it. I was humiliated and angry.”

Voelker, a mother of four who currently serves as the executive director of RiverBend Cancer Services, said she still has trouble balancing work and family life.

Although she admitted to forgetting to schedule dentist appointments because of an extreme focus on work, Voelker said it is key for women to remember to take time for themselves, no matter how busy they become.

“I’ll run or exercise at 5:30 in the morning, because that’s the time I can do it, and I enjoy it,” she said. “It’s something I’m really careful about, and I’ve been careful about it for a long time.”

Achieving a work-family balance was especially difficult for Brenda Torres, a graduate of the Notre Dame class of 1994. Torres gave birth to a child soon after graduation and joining the workforce as a public accountant.

Torres was able to utilize flexible scheduling at her profession, and she agreed personal time is just as important as career and family.

“Stress does really bad things to your body,” she said. “I can feel it when it’s happening. You need to do things like exercise and eat properly and get enough sleep and actually have some fun once in a while.”