In honor of Women’s History Month, the Ivy Tech Social Team (IVYTS) sat down with Ivy Tech Community College President, Dr. Sue Ellspermann, to discuss what Women’s History Month means to her and how it impacts economy and future of work.
IVYTS: What women have inspired you in your career?
President Ellspermann: Susan B. Anthony, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Mother (now Saint) Teresa of Calcutta, Sr. Kathy Huber (prioress emeritus of the Sisters of St. Benedict), Pat Koch (former matriarch of Holiday World), among others. Unfortunately, there were too few when I was young.
IVYTS: What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
President Ellspermann: When I was young I read every biography I could find on women leaders. It is fitting we take time now to share these stories with young women and men ensuring history correctly captures the impact of both genders.
IVYTS: Has being a woman every caused you barriers in your career? If so, how did you overcome them?
President Ellspermann: Occasionally. As a female engineer in manufacturing, there were cases of sexual harassment and what we would today call a hostile work environment. As women leaders, we must be responsible for our own actions, look out for younger women, and raise the flag on inappropriate behavior. I did that often and, in retrospect, could have done it even more.
IVYTS: Why do you believe it is important for women to take leadership roles in the workplace and community?
President Ellspermann: Women are doing what is needed to lead through greater educational preparation, with more women graduating from college and pursuing graduate degrees than men. We are more prepared and accomplished and, thus, are fully capable and qualified to lead in the workplace, in community roles and in elected office. Research shows that women don’t even apply for leadership positions unless they are very well qualified, unlike male peers.
IVYTS: What role do you believe women have in driving the Indiana economy and workforce?
President Ellspermann: You now see women leaders in almost all roles in the state: elected office, CEO roles, university presidents, K-12 superintendents. That is good. We are at the table in almost all discussions and progress is being made. There remains some hesitancy to bring young talent to the table with the exception of some great younger leaders such as Secretaries Blair Milo and Dr. Jennifer Walthall.
IVYTS: What advice do you have for young women hoping to make an impact?
President Ellspermann: To make an impact, you must take risks. Do not wait until you are “perfectly qualified.” Take volunteer and leadership positions at nonprofits you care about. Run for school boards or local elected office. Start a business so that you can control your destiny. There are many other great positions out there (I know as I have held too many to count). In each place, take on projects, problems, and opportunities others are afraid to pursue. Be a great team builder. And, always look for opportunities to encourage and raise other women up as you move up.
IVYTS: What do you want your legacy to be?
President Ellspermann: I want to have paved the way for other women…in business, in government and in leadership. I want to have created a culture of “How might we…?” that when we bring talented, committed, unselfish people together there are few problems we cannot solve together. And, I want to have made a difference in ensuring Hoosier prosperity from our rural areas and small towns to our great cities.
As Women’s History Month comes to a close, we encourage you to take time about how you impact your local community and what women inspire you daily. Share your thoughts and goals with us on Twitter @IvyTechCC using #IvyWomen.