On November 13, University of Redlands School of Business students, alumni, faculty, and community members gathered on the main Redlands campus for this year’s final installment of the 21st Century Leadership speaker series. Focusing on women in leadership, the event included a dinner and panel discussion that featured three notable female leaders who are impacting their teams and organizations.
The panel included Fannie Mae Senior Vice President and Chief Compliance and Ethics Officer Nancy Jardini, KPCC Chief Finance and Operating Officer Elsa Luna ’04, and AT&T Senior Manager of the Office of the President Georgia Zachary ’14. The conversation, moderated by Thomas Horan, the H. Jess and Donna Senecal Endowed Dean of the School of Business, was framed around their "arc of purposeful leadership," which as been a key theme of the school's Purposeful Leadership Initiative.
Provost Kathy Ogren hosted the event and reflected on her own rise to leadership before introducing the panelists. Ogren attended Scripps College, where she benefitted from the guidance of mentors and advisors, then went on to earn a Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University. At Redlands, she was a devoted faculty member in the History Department, advanced women’s history in the curriculum, directed the Johnston Center, and became Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, before, in 2015, she was appointed Provost.
“I was fortunate throughout my professional socialization at Scripps and elsewhere to have female and male mentors who expected and encouraged women to lead,” she said. “Just as we were mentored, so, too, have we mentored the generations who have come behind us to lead with purpose.”
Speaking from experience
Throughout the evening, Jardini, Luna, and Zachary spoke about their sources of motivation, challenges they have faced, and the advice they would give to their younger selves.
“In leadership, women are the ones who tend to carry the bulk of responsibility, at least in my experience,” said Luna, who was hired as a director of finance shortly after graduating from University of California, Los Angeles. “We have to learn balance and self-worth in an area where those things are not always naturally given, and we have to fight.”
As a young woman managing a team of 12 in a directorial role, Luna says she wasn’t always taken seriously. It took an array of skills, such as confidence, hard work, and the ability to speak with gravitas in order for her colleagues to consider her ideas.
Similarly, Jardini explained how different positions throughout her 30-year career in law granted her a cache of expertise. Before her tenure at Fannie Mae, she worked as a lawyer and then as a federal prosecutor, which led to the position of chief of criminal investigation at the Internal Revenue Service.
Throughout each appointment, Jardini said, she built trust and empathy with her coworkers and aimed to partner with employees instead of simply directing them. She encouraged audience members to seek mentorship everywhere, not just from superiors, saying, “If you stop learning, you’ll stop leading.”
Zachary agreed, revealing that members of her community—both professional and personal—are the reason she has found success, and she is already paying it forward by making space for other women at AT&T. As the former president of Women of AT&T, Zachary promoted professional and personal development of the company’s female employees while increasing membership and planning networking activities.
Making an impact
When asked about their legacies, each woman was able to point to a specific professional event that made her feel as though she made an impact on the lives of others.
As an executive at a mortgage loan company during the height of the 2008 recession, Jardini leaned on her training in law and ethics in order to draft a strong code of conduct and build a culture of ethics within the organization. “We were able to turn the company away from the recession and toward helping our customers,” she said. “It was that strong cultural bond that carried us through a crisis.”
As the former chief financial officer of YWCA of Greater Los Angeles, Luna recalled the feeling of fulfillment she received from being a part of the team that strengthened the organization’s job corps program. Providing housing, food, healthcare, and professional opportunities to improve the lives of at-risk youth in downtown Los Angeles was one of the highlights of her career.
Zachary is involved in a number of nonprofit organizations that work to enhance the lives of those in underserved communities. When AT&T launched the Believe Chicago initiative, a network of grassroots efforts to increase awareness of how gun violence was affecting the lives of those in 19 of the city’s neighborhoods, Zachary was a proponent of bringing the initiative to Atlanta, Dallas, and Los Angeles.
In closing, the panelists offered up advice they would give their younger selves. Luna said to “enjoy the moment.” Zachary advocated for education. And Jardini emphasized the importance of teamwork: “If you’re working by your own motivation alone, you will fail,” she said. “Always be in touch with your empathy. Always be mindful of what other people are feeling, and make sure you know what success looks like in their eyes.”
The 21st Century Leadership speaker series is part of the Purposeful Leadership Initiative. Past events have featured speakers such as TripAdvisor CEO Steve Kaufer, Esri Chief Marketing Officer Marianna Kantor, and Trust Factor author Paul Zak Support for the series has also been provided by the Banta Center for Purposeful and Ethical Leadership.