Keeping with its theme "Thriving Not Just Surviving," the conference featured keynote speakers and workshops addressing issues faced by women seeking to advance their careers in higher education.
"The statistics about women as college presidents are depressing," said Barb Lundberg, vice-president and dean of enrollment administration at St. Olaf and state coordinator and chairman of the board for the Minnesota ACE Network. "The organization helps women wanting to advance."
While the national organization, which has existed for 25 years, helps women who aspire to be college presidents and deans, the Minnesota organization has also broadened to include women seeking other promotions; examples include going from being an admissions counselor to being director of admissions, or from professor to department chair.
Keynote speaker Sheila Wellington addressed the barriers preventing women from advancing and ways to overcome those barriers in her speech "No One Makes It Without a Mentor" on Thursday night.
Wellington, author of Be Your Own Mentor and former president of the nonprofit research firm Catalyst, cited statistics from her research by stressing the importance of mentorship and networking as women seek to advance in male-dominated careers such as higher education and business.
According to Wellingtons research, women make up almost half of the U.S. labor force. However, just over four percent of the top earners in Fortune 500 companies are women. Thirteen percent of the granting institutions are women.
"Women are getting educated and making the right choices," Wellington told the crowd. "If a woman makes the choice to stay home and knit, thats fine; I dont care, as long as its her choice. If she wants a job, she ought to be able to get the best job and promotions she deserves....I have a seven-year-old grandson and a fifteen-month-old granddaughter. I want those kids to have a level playing field."
In the process of leveling the playing field and helping women get ahead, Wellington said the lack of mentorship is the most common barrier holding women back.
"The women with the mentors are the ones getting promoted," she said. "You really do need someone to give you a push now and then."
Wellington defines a mentor as a guide, coach or advocate. A mentor can be especially helpful to working mothers trying to juggle their responsibilities or to women needing encouragement in trying to advance in male-dominated professions.
St. Olaf faculty members participated in the conference in various talks and workshops. Jo Beld, director of academic research and planning and associate professor of political science, discussed her move from a faculty member to administrator. DeAne Lagerquist, religion department chair and associate professor, spoke about professional development opportunities for women in higher education. Cecilia Lee, an academic advisor for Student Support Services, addressed issues facing women of color who seek to advance in the workplace.
President Christopher Thomforde, one of two male presidential sponsors of the Minnesota ACE Network, joined Dr. Wilson G. Bradshaw, president of Metropolitan State University, and Dr. Kathleen Nelson, president of Lake Superior College, to discuss issues facing institutions of higher education. Lundberg spoke about the importance of being informed about issues concerning a position before accepting it.
Lundberg hopes that the decision to bring the conference to St. Olaf had an impact on the student body.
"This conference makes a statement about St. Olaf. It says, Look at what women are doing in higher education," said Lundberg. "I hope that having women leaders and dynamic female speakers on campus will say to the women students here, St. Olaf does support you as you go on."