Published: Oct. 23, 2020

The Women’s Leadership Symposium zeroes-in on tech, inclusion and courage.

The Women’s Leadership Symposium

Women’s and Leadership Programs, a new area at Leeds School of Business, is dedicated to gender parity and education and inspires a strong community of women at Leeds. Earlier this month, the program debuted its first-ever Women’s Leadership Symposium—an event to help women learn power skills, engage in pivotal conversations and build community.

How low-code changes the playing field

The symposium kicked off with a look into the future of business and new opportunities available to women.

“There’s never been a better time to be alive,” said Brian Sathianathan, co-founder of In the modern era, he explained, technological advances are happening faster than ever, and coders aren’t the only ones profiting from this. Open-source code, said CU alum and CEO of, Jon Nordmark, has made coding more accessible to those without a computer science background, opening up opportunities for women to learn technical skills that are highly valued in today’s business world. In fact, women with tech skills earn 28% more, on average, than those without.

Nordmark encouraged women students to make use of programs and resources both online and at Leeds, like the popular BE Tech Scholars program, to prepare for the changing business world.

Diversity is only half the battle

Many workplaces have become significantly more diverse. More women and minorities than ever before have found executive positions in the business world. However, Professor Stefanie K. Johnson, author of the bestselling book, “Inclusify,” pointed out that diversity and inclusion are two very different things.

Gold bar section divider

“Inclusion is like asking someone to the dance floor. Inclusifying is asking them to the dance floor and playing a song they actually want to dance to.”

Dr. Stefanie K. Johnson, Moderator

Andrea Silva, director of innovation success at, agreed with Johnson and shared that it is impossible to be your most successful self if you cannot bring your full self to work. Zayo manager Essence Montgomery added that if you want to be an inclusifier, “don’t let the person who says nothing continue to say nothing.”

Judy Harris, senior manager at Crowe, noted how when working for an accounting firm, she received most of the secretarial duties, while the men were responsible for the “heavy lifting” or regular accounting work. Other panelists expressed a similar sentiment and lack of inclusion at various points in their own careers.

On the flip side, Melanie Cutlan, a managing director at Accenture, shared a success story about leading a team where women are encouraged to support each other and men are also encouraged to be advocates: “I found that when women were on my tech teams, the whole team began to bring their best selves. It’s about elevating the whole team.”

But in many cases, workplaces have become more diverse while inclusion has been slow to follow. As such, panelists advised female students on what to look out for and how to respond.

They advised that women should take all work tasks seriously, even the menial ones. Jennifer Estrada, senior manager of operations at Zayo, recommended they “knock those tasks out of the park” and establishing a presence that cannot be ignored. Many panelists said that asking for harder tasks helped them find success: Their high-quality work increased their responsibilities and helped them move up to higher positions.

The panel discussed the characteristics exemplified by women leaders. Montgomery noted how titles may seem important when starting with a company, but true leaders serve without them, working diligently to make a name for themselves in terms of their work ethic. Leaders, they say, are the approachable members of a team willing to lend a hand or an ear whenever needed. Women looking to lead in tomorrow’s business world must recognize these characteristics as essential.

What’s courage got to do with it? (Everything)

In her keynote remarks, Patrina Pettry modeled intense courage and vulnerability. Pettry, the consumer and business banking market leader at U.S. Bank for the Denver market, spoke of courageous conversations we must have with ourselves, our families and our colleagues if we are to find personal and professional success.

She shared moments when she experienced imposter syndrome in her career: “I’m not sure how I got here. I’m inexperienced. I’m inadequate. I’m not qualified. I’m ugly. My skin is too dark.” When these thoughts would surface, courage, she said, pushed her forward.

Pettry revealed a heartfelt letter written to her mother, who struggled financially and taught her to live courageously. That courage inspired her career. Enrolled at Ohio Christian University as a religious studies major, Pettry met a powerful Latina woman who believed she would make a great banker. In that instant, it seemed clear that she was meant to build bridges in the financial industry for people like her mother.

Throughout her career, Pettry learned what it takes to be courageous:

  • Have the courage to change and adapt.
  • Have the courage to brand yourself (or others will do it for you).
  • Act in courage.
  • Tell your story.

People often feel exposed when sharing their story, but this is how a leader helps give others a voice.

“A courageous conversation is being brave enough to have an imperfect interaction, vulnerable enough to ask for help, and grateful to someone for making you better,” concluded Pettry.