Summit at Benedictine spotlights ways women can succeed
By Susan Frick Carlman firstname.lastname@example.org September 28, 2012 12:22PM
Jill Morgenthaler speaks at the Women's Leadership Summit on Sept. 28 at Benedictine University. | Submitted
Updated: November 8, 2012 6:06AM
Womanhood is not for the faint of heart. Those who coordinated a recent gathering for female leaders at Benedictine University would likely concur, however, that it’s precisely for that reason that you don’t send a man to do a woman’s job.
Almost 400 people, mostly women, came out for the eighth annual Greater Chicago Women’s Leadership Summit, Sept. 28 on the Lisle campus.
Setting the tone for the half-day event, Stephanie Brown shared a poem that posed rhetorically, “What is our greatest fear?”
The passage noted the apparent dichotomy between traditionally male traits and those of women, citing a fear that taking on men’s roles may make “our curves disappear and our hearts grow cold.”
Participants would promptly be reminded that the two genders’ conventional qualities are not mutually exclusive.
Barb Dwyer, serving as mistress of ceremonies, urged the group to be purposeful in putting themselves in the picture more of the time.
“It’s sometimes hard to be part of our own equation, because we’re looking at others,” said Dwyer, a retired clinical social worker who with her husband Tom Greenberg recently relocated to Tennessee after filling a wide variety of community roles in and around Naperville for more than two decades — including Sun columnist.
A little faith in ourselves, she advised, can take us a long way.
Women have a habit of zeroing in on their own defeats, often having trouble recalling triumphs with anything near the detail in which they remember their setbacks.
“How you talk to yourself is really important,” Dwyer said. “You see, you really are what you think.”
The dynamic trio of keynote speakers who followed Dwyer’s opening comments included Pat Harris, vice president and global chief diversity officer for Oak Brook-based McDonald’s Corp.; Jill Morgenthaler, a retired U.S. Army colonel and the first Homeland Security adviser appointed in Illinois; and Linda Yang, cofounder and executive director of the Xilin Association and the director of Xilin Asian Community Center of Naperville, a leader in the local Chinese community.
Yang, who came to the podium first, touched on themes of courage, differences and determination.
“I think courage is a psychologically balanced mind, and the wisdom to bring many different personalities together,” she said.
As a college student pursuing a degree in math and computer science in communist China, Yang raised eyebrows from time to time.
“I’m not really a regular, normal girl,” she said, eliciting an appreciative chuckle from the crowd. “I pursue my dreams, and sometimes when I pursue my dreams, I get into trouble.”
She offered four primary pieces of advice for putting courage into practice.
“Dare to dream. That’s the number one thing. And the second thing is dare to initiate,” said Yang, who established the Xilin Language School in Naperville in 1991 after starting a prototype program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Yang’s conviction in the strength of knowledge came as no surprise. Women, she emphasized, need the courage to learn.
“Believe in yourself. You can learn,” she said.
Acknowledging that it isn’t always easy to be a dreamer, she cautioned that sacrifice is sometimes unavoidable. It shouldn’t be feared.
“Sometimes you have to bump into the setbacks,” she said. “I think you have to be ready for that. You have to be stubborn. You have to be persistent.”
Those who persevere can draw satisfaction from mustering the courage it demands, she noted. As an illustration, she related how despite ongoing challenges such as language barriers and scarce access to means of transportation, the Xilin Center’s senior services programs reached out repeatedly to a woman who was reluctant to undergo a mammogram. Finally, Yang said, a screening caught breast cancer in its early stages — in time for successful treatment.
“These kinds of things motivate us,” she said. “We make a difference.”