Women leaders from across region take part in Accenture Women’s Leadership Breakfast at the Touhill
University of Missouri–St. Louis Chancellor Kristin Sobolik has had to forge her own path for most of her 30-plus years in higher education.
There weren’t many women in administration when she joined the faculty at the University of Maine in the early 1990s, and she felt an obligation to always do more as she started getting promoted up the ranks while also starting her family.
“At the time that I was a professor and having children, I showed up the next week because I felt I needed to,” Sobolik said. “I was the first one there.”
Sobolik was speaking to an audience of more than 60 women leaders from across the St. Louis region, offering insight into career success while taking part in a panel discussion at the Accenture Women’s Leadership Breakfast Friday morning in the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Theater at UMSL’s Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center. The event was held in connection with the Ascension Charity Classic golf tournament contested over the weekend at nearby Norwood Hills Country Club.
More than a few women in the audience were nodding along as Sobolik talked, as though her memories meshed with their own experiences in corporate jobs.
Sobolik described how her early experiences shaped her career in the years since.
“When I then was able to get there, that was not going to be the path of the people behind me,” Sobolik said. “I was going to make sure that there were opportunities, that some things have changed and making sure that I was helping kind of trail blaze that path. I’ve had to do that for most of my career, until frankly when I got here at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.”
Sobolik is the third woman to serve as chancellor at UMSL, following Marguerite Ross Barnett and Blanche Touhill, who has become one of her mentors and someone with whom she has almost weekly conversations.
“It’s been a real pleasure to have that,” Sobolik said. “But it’s important just making sure that as you forge in the spaces that women or minorities weren’t before, that you are making sure that you’re widening the path and are supporting people behind you.”
Attendees of the breakfast also heard stories and gleaned bits of wisdom from the experience of the other panelists, Dr. Tam Brownlee, the chief health officer at Accenture; Kathy Button-Bell, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Emerson; and Khalia Collier, the vice president of community relations at St. Louis City SC as well as the owner of the St. Louis Surge professional basketball team. UMSL Chief of Staff Adella Jones moderated the conversation with the four women.
Button-Bell described the importance of taking lessons from mistakes but not dwelling on them.
“I have a sign in my office that says, ‘Recover quickly, so you can start making good decisions again,’” Button-Bell said. “I think it’s a tremendous trait and something to embrace, saying, ‘Hey, recover, get going.’”
Collier described how she’s kept her eyes on the future throughout her own career rather than replaying past decisions. If anything, she said she’s had to work at times to be a little bit more in the present.
Brownlee stressed that failure should not always be viewed in a negative light.
“The narrative of failure as negative is one that gets ingrained in us,” she said. “It starts with your kindergarten report card. ‘Did you get all S’s?’ For me, coming from a family that was very much into emphasizing education and the like, it would devastate me up to the point. But there has to be a pivot when you get a chance to reframe failure.”
The theme for the breakfast was “We Thrive Where We Belong,” and the list of featured speakers also included Liz Foshage, senior vice president and chief financial officer at Ascension, and LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez.
Lopez was not part of the group of women who founded the LPGA, but she has had a significant role in growing women’s golf since she turned professional and joined the tour in 1977, winning 48 LPGA tournaments, including three major championships. She discussed some of her career highlights and the responsibility she felt for the success of those around her.
“My goal was to help my tour grow – to promote it, to do all the press conferences that I needed, to try and win golf tournaments to bring the attention to the LPGA Tour,” Lopez said. “Fortunately for me, when I won five in row, the press kind of moved over and started watching. And it wasn’t just about me. I wanted them to watch our tour because we have all these talented women that worked just as hard as the guys, practiced every day, but yet corporate America just wasn’t wrapping their arms around that yet. So I was just trying to make the tour growing and be better was what I wanted to do.”
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