Women rising: New employee-led group focuses on supporting the advancement of women who aspire to leadership roles

Apr 19, 2018, 19:32 PM by KirstiAnn Clifford
Dr. Laura Rudkin speaks about her experiences in leadership roles.
When Dr. Laura Rudkin was told not to worry who would be the next chair of their department because she would be there to “help him,” she took it as a challenge.

“It really struck me that I didn’t necessarily want to help, I wanted to take the lead,” said Rudkin, professor and chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, and co-chair of the UTMB Women’s Leadership Network. “I gave it some thought and went back and said I would like to be considered as an interim chair for that position… That was a turning point for me.”

Rudkin, along with Dr. Rebecca Saavedra, vice president of strategic management and WLN co-chair; Dr. Tamara Watts, associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology; and Donna Sollenberger, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Health System, shared the “zigs and zags” of their careers in leadership during the WLN’s inaugural event on Feb. 14 on the Galveston Campus.

The new employee-led group is committed to developing, advancing and supporting women who hold or aspire to leadership roles in higher education. Before the panel of women leaders launched into a discussion moderated by UTMB President David Callender, Saavedra pointed to statistics showing that while women are 44 percent of the overall S&P 500 labor force, they are only 25 percent of executive- and senior-level officials and managers, and are only 6 percent of CEOs.  

“The good news is that at UTMB, we have it a little better—we have a woman who is CEO of the Health System, a woman chief financial officer, we have deans and chairs that are women and more than a dozen women who are vice presidents,” said Saavedra. “But there is still more that we can do to advance women in medicine. Research shows that half of professional women have never had a mentor… so this is a critical activity we need to get engaged in.”

The panel discussed the importance of supporting mentoring activities for aspiring women leaders and working together with men to build a collaborative environment.

“My primary mentors throughout my career have all been males,” said Sollenberger, when asked how men can help women develop as leaders. “I can tell you what characteristics they had that were helpful to me: They saw my capability, not my gender. They understood that I had something important to say, not that I was expected to sit there and be silent... so encouraging people to become better, to grow, is so important, and you do that by showing the way and making sure they feel that they can do it.”

The panel also provided career advice and addressed work-life balance issues, among other topics. To watch a video of the full panel discussion and to learn more about the Women’s Leadership Network, visit www.utmb.edu/womensleadershipnetwork.