Women in the Workplace: Four campus leaders share their stories at panel discussion


On March 21, the Women’s Affinity Group and the Pitt Staff Council co-sponsored a panel discussion on “Women in the Workplace,” where four female campus leaders generously answered questions about their careers in front of a crowd of about 50 attendees. 

The panelists were: Jennifer E. Woodward, vice chancellor for Research Operations and professor of surgery and immunology; Val Njie, president-elect of the Pitt Alumni Association and former executive director and senior vice president of Bidwell Training Center; Samantha Balbier, director of the Institute of Politics and the Elsie Hillman Civic Forum; and Sherdina Harper, programming coordinator and advisor in the Office of Cross Cultural and Leadership Development. 

Addressing questions ranging from which woman inspired them to advice they have for when they encountered roadblocks in the workplace, each woman shared her personal experiences and how they have shaped not only her as a person, but also her career trajectory. Balbier recounted how she was inspired by a friend of her older sister who taught her the value of self-reliance as they worked on renovating a home the friend recently purchased. 

Personally speaking, I was struck by how different each woman is, from her background to her current position, but there were many similarities in the advice and experiences each of the panelists had. 

For example, Njie spoke about spending 300 hours preparing for a single meeting, and Woodward described preparing for a meeting by ensuring that if you are going to propose a new idea, speak with others ahead of time to obtain their buy-in for your idea.  

“These accomplished women were all different, but shared common traits that led to their success.  I found their advice was worth hearing no matter where one was in their career.  I was struck by how fearless and hardworking these women were and yet how generously they credited their success to others, especially examples set by mothers and grandmothers,” said attendee Yvonne M. Keafer.

Tiwanda Taylor, another attendee, echoed this sentiment: “One of my biggest takeaways is how crucial it is to think more strategically. It was also emphasized how important preparation and effective communication are.”    

“Be a woman of your word,” encouraged Harper, “and don’t believe the lies you tell yourself.” 

This advice, along with so many other adages, prompted Kelly Lee Tatone, one of the attendees, to share, “I learned things that will serve me in my professional life, and many things resonated. It is a comfort sometimes to hear that you are not alone in your struggles and to be given suggestions for successfully coping with challenges.”

While only an hour long, the panel provided a sense of empowerment and solidarity among everyone in the room. 

The Women’s Affinity Group plans to hold more events and if you are interested in learning more about the group, please contact either Cyndi Caldwell, cec82@pitt.edu, or EJ Milarski, meleanor@pitt.edu.  For more information about Pitt Staff Council, please contact staffcouncil@pitt.edu or 412-624-4236.

Cyndi Caldwell, director of planned giving for Pitt Medical Health Sciences Foundation, is co-chair of the Women’s Affinity Group.