“Can you have it all? No, not all at once — but you can in the course of a lifetime,” said Kathryn Boor, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, at a panel on Tuesday that explored the approaches women can take to navigate challenges and to achieve successful careers.
In addition to Boor, the panel featured Barbara Knuth, senior vice provost and dean of Cornell Graduate School and Alison Bodor ’93, C.E.O. and president of the American Frozen Food Institute. Kate Walsh MPS ’90, dean of the hotel school, served as the moderator.
Genevieve Sullivan grad, organizer of the event, told The Sun that the impetus for the panel came from her own confrontation with barriers for women in the food science workforce and her desire to provide a positive response.
“Feeling discouraged, I asked a few members of the food industry during a co-ed panel about how things were for women in today’s workforce. The men were the first few to answer, saying that things are good. The women then cut in … to disagree,” she said.
During the panel, the three woman pioneers reflected on their personal experiences with gender barriers but also expressed optimism about women’s power to determine the course of their careers.
“There have been times when I have wondered if gender played an important role in terms of some of those challenges that I have faced in leadership, but you know something? That’s something I’m not changing,” Boor said. “And so then, I have to learn how to work with that.”
According to Bodor, knowledge and confidence are crucial for women while facing obstacles in their life and career.
“Being confident in what you know and presenting it clearly and fairly is the best advantage, the best thing you can do,” she said, adding that gender is “not the defining issue.”
Knuth suggested that another important quality that all women should possess is the courage to speak up. She recalled one time when she managed to attend a professional conference while having to care for her infant daughter at the same time, which would not have been possible if she had not asked for support from the University.
“One of the messages that I hope comes out of this is: never be afraid to ask … don’t be afraid to speak up,” she said.
Despite her personal success in balancing life and work, Knuth acknowledged that flexibility has always been a key issue for women, but that the situation for younger generations is improving.
“I think now there are many more faculty who have been through dual career situations, who have had both parents working throughout their careers, so they understand what that’s like to have both members deeply embedded in family life,” she said.
Bodor expressed similar optimism about the situation in the corporate world and encouraged women not to let concerns about family limit their choices and aspirations.
“Don’t limit your choices before you get to that point [of having children] … push hard until you’re ready to make the choice to have children … most companies are flexible today and offer opportunities to find that balance,” she said
As she was concluding the discussion, Walsh emphasized that women should not be afraid to stand up for what they are worth.
“Always negotiate when you get your job offers,” Walsh said. “Don’t worry about or think that it means you’re not coming across as nice or accommodating.”