“This I Believe About Leadership…”

Within the last month, everyone in our Homeward Bound cohort completed their Lifestyle Inventory which is “an individual development tool that uses both self-assessment and colleague feedback to identify individual thinking and behavioral styles. By providing insights into strengths and areas for development, it empowers people to embark on their own journeys to being better at, and enjoying more, everything they do.”  In addition to completing the survey ourselves, we each selected up to 8 respondents (direct reports, bosses, peers, etc.) to complete the survey about us. Based on survey responses and geographic location we will be paired with a leadership coach for a minimum of 4 sessions.  Leadership coaching can be very expensive, so this is huge benefit of the program.  The company Human Synergistics donates this service to the program, so a big shout out to them!!

I think most participants have recently received their results and in fact, mine just arrived in the mail today.  However, I wanted to get this update posted before looking at the results, so I haven’t yet peeked inside the envelop.

From what I’m told, and from some less formal experience, leadership coaching or having an honest mentor can also be a little painful.  Apparently, the anonymity of a 360 evaluation gives respondents the license to speak freely.  On one hand that’s exactly what you want, on the other hand, it’s not always what you want to hear.  It’s never easy to look in the mirror expecting to see a beautiful princess and discovering that you’ve got a few warts.

Nonetheless, it’s an opportunity for growth and development.  So, I thought it might be interesting in a somewhat public forum to track my progress over the course of the next year.  A significant number of the questions on the Homeward Bound application focused on our personal experiences and our thoughts on leadership. On specific question was something along the lines of, “Complete the following statement, This I believe about leadership… (100 words or less)”

My response to this question was:

“This I believe about leadership, it is not easy to define in 100 words or less.  Leadership is a challenge, a responsibility, and a privilege.  Leadership changes with the circumstances under which one is called to lead.  I believe it requires a stable vision and moral compass, but the flexibility to adapt to different situations.  Leadership may mean being out in front while at other times it may mean leading from behind. It may require change and compromise, while at other times, maintaining a steady course.  Leadership skills need to be constantly reevaluated and refined to achieve success.”

I’m interested to know how you would have answered this question or if you have any specific comments about my response.  Let me know what you think – a little lively debate will be a good warm-up for what’s to come with my one-on-one coaching!!  A year from now, I will revisit the question to see how much my response has changed.


Antarctica Not-So-Fun Fact:  The rate of Antarctic ice loss has tripled compared to what it was a decade ago.



Okay, so maybe I opened the envelop, but I haven’t looked at the results yet – wish me luck!!


Sister Shirley Kolmer

“Perhaps we will come to see the day when everyone recognizes that we all inherit the earth and we can allow each person, each people to claim their rightful inheritance”

Sister Shirley Kolmer


It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Sometimes life happens and blogging does not.  But in the typically ebb and flow, things settle back down, or perhaps more aptly stated, the usual level of chaos is restored.

So, needless to say this post is way overdue as the topic is the Sister Shirley Kolmer Grant which was awarded at the St. Louis University (SLU) Women’s Commission “Women of the Year Luncheon” on April 25, 2018. The Commission was founded in 1973 (the year I was born) and its goal “has been to provide ongoing support to the status of women, as well as educational opportunities, enrichment, and leadership experience for women of the University.”

One of the signature events of the Commission is the annual luncheon which honors women who have made outstanding contributions to the University.  One of the prior honorees made an anonymous contribution to provide the initial support for the Sister Shirley Kolmer Memorial Grant which allows the Commission to “support SLU women in a tangible, financial way”.

Sister Shirley Kolmer, ASC, a nun, a PhD in theoretical mathematics, and a former professor at St. Louis University was killed on October 23, 1992 in Liberia.  She was serving with 4 other nuns who were all killed in the country’s brutal civil war; they were given the title “Martyrs of Charity” by Pope John Paul II.

Sister Shirley was a member of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ (ASC), “an [international] group of religious women, founded in Italy … to educated young girls.”  As described by her sister Elizabeth Kolmer, “[We are] a bunch of women doing all kinds of good stuff because we do the things that need to be done…”  Another member of the community, Sr. Raphael Ann Drone stated, “I belong to a group of people who can make a difference in the world.  You know when you are by yourself you can do a lot of things, but when you have a whole group of people behind you, together we can do a lot.  It doesn’t make any difference how old either, we just keep on going.”

In the 1970s, while traveling back from Rome on a trip with the Provincial of her order, a detour was made to Liberia.  Sister Shirley recognized that she could teach at a local university in Libera and subsequently returned there in 1977 on a Fullbright scholarship.  She remained there for 2 years before she was called back to Illinois to serve as the Provincial.  Drawn by her mission to serve the poor and to provide teacher education, she returned to Liberia in 1984 and remained there until her death in 1992.

Diane Shirley Kolmer described her aunt as a “born leader”, a “force of nature”, “ridiculously smart”, and “so damned funny”.  The following quote taken from a letter Sister Shirley wrote to her sister in September of 1991 captures some of that spirit: “Maybe I’ll go for a swim at the beach and dinner at the beach house.  I’ll have to see if I can manage, it’s a busy time now, but one must grab opportunity when it comes.  Remember always give into temptation, it may never come again.”  It makes me smile to hear a nun offering advice to give into temptation.

(This link will take you to a page with information about the Martyrs of Charity.  There is a YouTube video on the page that nicely depicts the nuns, their mission, and the impact of their service.  http://adorers.org/asc-liberia-martyrs/)

I was honored to be selected as one of this year’s Sister Shirley Kolmer Memorial Grant recipients along with Dr. Jintong Tang, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Management.  Her work will focus on promoting women entrepreneurship on campus.  My grant will help fund my Homeward Bound costs.

Below is a picture taken at the luncheon (from left to right):  Dr. Tang, Dr. Frances Pestello, Faculty in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the first First Lady of the University (all of the former University presidents have bene priests), and me.


Women in STEM and a Return Visit to my Alma Mater

STEM, STEMM, STEAM.  There are a number or varieties to this abbreviation.  Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, Medicine.  Traditionally these are fields which have been dominated by men, and while there are increasing numbers of women joining the ranks, we are still a long way from parity.

Since I am a surgeon, I will focus on medicine.  Every 2 years, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) posts a report on The State of Women in Academic Medicine (https://www.aamc.org/members/gwims/statistics/).  The most recent data is from 2015-2016.  That year, just under half of the students accepted into medical school and who graduated from medical school were women.  On the upside, this is a significant improvement from 1965-1966 where women made up only 8.9% of students accepted and 6.9% of graduates.  In 2015, in the field of surgery, 19% of the M.D. faculty were women and percentages in academic rank were:  Instructor – 31%, Assistant Professor – 24%, Associate Professor – 17%, Full Professor – 9%.  Of the 315 Surgery Department Chair positions, 10 were held by women.

A 2016 study from JAMA Internal Medicine had some interesting findings about salary discrepancies (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5558151/).  This study looked at salary data on 10,241 academic physicians at 24 public medical schools.  On average, women earned $51,000 less than their male peers, were less likely to be full professors (20% vs. 38%) and had fewer first/ last author publications.  After adjusting the data for multiple factors, women still made approximately $20,000 less.  The salary difference was most notable for surgical subspecialties. Perhaps most troubling is that adjusted female salaries for full professors were comparable to male associate professors, and female salaries for associate professor were comparable to male assistant professors.

So, while women are entering medicine at roughly the same rate as men, they are not achieving the same level of financial compensation or holding a proportionate number of leadership positions.  Many of the other STEM fields are even further behind.  For example, a recent article published in The Atlantic calculated that it might take 258 years to close the gender gap in physics (https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/when-will-the-gender-gap-in-science-disappear/558413/).

So why do these gaps persist?  It is likely multifactorial.  Young girls have not traditionally been encouraged to take math and science courses; women take time away from careers for child rearing and are also more likely to be caretakers for aging parents and relatives; and there are inherent differences in how women lead and negotiate, just to name a few.

Many different strategies have been proposed to help close the gender gaps from encouraging high school girls to take classes in calculus, physics, and computer science to giving greater recognition to demands outside of the workplace and improving access to parental leave and career breaks.  Women could support each other with efforts such as amplification (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2016/10/25/how-a-white-house-womens-office-strategy-went-viral/?utm_term=.aa39e41003f0) and work to develop more robust informal networks.

As a result of my Homeward Bound involvement, I reached out to my alma mater in Lynbrook, New York. I wasn’t exactly sure where things would go, but I felt like this was the perfect opportunity to reconnect.  My Lynbrook education has been at the foundation of my career and I am forever indebted to my outstanding teachers.

I met with Melissa Burak, the Superintendent of Schools (who incidentally is the daughter of longtime friends of my parents and I think it had probably been 35+ years since I last saw her) and it turns out, the school district hosts a Women in STEAM night each year for 4thand 5thgrade students.  Unfortunately, due to scheduling and travel constraints, I won’t be able to attend this year’s session.  So instead, we recorded a brief video presentation which will be used this year.  Next year I will plan to attend in person with an updated 2.0 version post-Antarctica.  It was great to go back into my high school which looks almost exactly as it did when I was last there in 1991.  Well, the computer room has been significantly updated (yes, there has been a considerable amount of technologic advancement in the last 27 years), but at least it’s in the same place.  For a sneak peak of the video follow this link:  https://drive.google.com/open?id=1IZmxga_nt6DmjRLBLsf4c2TI3fN-llND.


Antarctica Fun Fact:  The coldest recorded temperature was -128.6 degrees Fahrenheit. It was recorded on July 21, 1983 at the Soviet Vostok Station.

It’s Just Like the Brady Bunch… Except Totally Different…

We had our group call for March this past Tuesday, though technically the call was on Wednesday since it was hosted in Australia.  (Thank goodness for date and time calculators!!)  Zoom is the on-line conferencing platform used for the calls.

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This is a screenshot from the last call.  For those of you who grew up watching the Brady Bunch, this is very reminiscent of the opening theme song.  But, instead of being about a man named Brady and his lovely lady, this is about 76 truly amazing women who share the common threads of STEMM and a love for the planet.  It is incredibly inspiring to be on these calls with women from all over the world with different accents, cultures, areas of expertise, and so much more.  (Ironically, on our first call, when asked how many of us felt qualified to have been selected, nearly no one (myself included) raised their hands.  The topic of how women perceive themselves is enough for at least one, if not more, stand alone postings, so more to follow in the future.)

We had several women on this call who are members of the 2018 cohort and had just returned from their Antarctic trip.  Their enthusiasm and excitement was infectious.  Even over the internet, you could feel the lifelong bonds they had formed.

On our call, we discussed some of the things that we will be doing in the upcoming year.  There will be leadership training and scientific work.  The company Human Synergistics (which has worked with the first two cohorts) will be donating their time for leadership coaching.  We will be using the Life Styles Inventory leadership diagnostic and will receive 4 leadership coaching sessions.  Additionally we will participate in peer coaching.  To a certain extent this has started already in that we have been broken down into smaller groups which have been calling or meeting for about the last 6 weeks.  These groups will change over the course of the year so that we have an opportunity to get to know more of the team members prior to our trip.  And, there will be lots of peer coaching once we all convene for the Antarctica voyage.  We will also be broken down into small groups to work on scientific projects.  Topics and groups are still TBD at this point.

Antarctica Fun Fact:  The furthest point north in Antarctica is at about 63 degrees of latitude.  In the northern hemisphere, the 63rd parallel traverses Alaska in the US and the Hudson Bay in Canada.



You’re Going to Antarctica?!?

Yes, you heard/ read correctly, I’m going to Antarctica in January 2019 as part of the 3rd cohort of women in the Homeward Bound Project.

Homeward Bound is an audacious program with the goal of creating a global coalition of 1000 women with backgrounds in STEM to bring a voice to the planet and drive policy change.

“Mother Nature Needs Her Daughters.”

Homeward Bound is relatively new so there isn’t a long history.  The initial idea came from Fabian Dattner who is a leadership activist and partner at Dattner Grant, a leadership development consultancy based in Australia.  She partnered with Jess Melbourne Thomas, an Antarctic Marine Ecological Modeler, to build the program.

The following statements are taken directly from the Homeward Bound website (homewardboundprojects.com.au):

“Homeward Bound is a groundbreaking leadership, strategic and science initiative for women, set against the backdrop of Antarctica.

The initiative aims to heighten the influence and impact of women with a science background in order to influence policy and decision making as it shapes our planet, within 10 years.

In 2016, Homeward Bound gathered the first 76 of a targeted 1,000 women from around the world, all with critical science backgrounds, to undertake a year-long state-of-the-art program to develop their leadership and strategic capabilities, using science to build conviction around the importance of their voices.  The inaugural program culminated in the largest-ever female expedition to Antarctica, in December 2016, with a focus on the leadership of women and the state of the world.”

The second cohort just returned from Antarctica and my cohort will travel during the beginning of January 2019.

During this upcoming year, our cohort will have monthly group conference calls, we will also undergo leadership diagnostics and receive leadership coaching.  There be scientific projects assigned to groups within the cohort.  The trip to Antarctica is intended to be an intensive culmination of the leadership training and an opportunity to share and further develop scientific initiatives.  Antarctica has been chosen for the backdrop as it is one of the places on Earth most affected by climate change.

We have already begun to interact with members of the first cohort and look forward to learning about the recent experiences of the second Homeward Bound expedition.  This is an exciting time as it feels like the project is gaining momentum.

So this is my next BIG adventure and I look forward to see where it takes me, other than to Antarctica!!

My intent with the blog is to take you along for the ride.  I will share the things I learn and my experiences as they unfold.

Please share the blog with anyone who might be interested.  Please also share your comments and ask questions.  I am so, so super excited about this upcoming year and hope and I can spark some of the same enthusiasm in anyone who visits this site.