Sandra Ingram-Smith found her good friend Tammy Kirkland
through a Centre Club crowd of about 200 Baltimore-Washington
businesswomen gathered for a Women in Leadership Luncheon.
Getting to her was something of a problem, hobbled, as she was,
by a broken ankle. But not being held back by your circumstances
was an almost palpable undercurrent at the School of Continuing
Studies-sponsored lunch, featuring one of America's top female
corporate executives, Ann Fudge.
This was the school's first Leadership Luncheon, supporting the Women, Leadership and Change program in its Division of Business and Management. Like many in the audience, Ingram-Smith, who owns an organizational development consulting firm, is an alum of the school's intensive nine-month, 15-credit graduate certification program that teaches change management skills and strategies to women in leadership positions.
It was in that program three years ago that Ingram-Smith met Kirkland, director of human resources at a Lanham, Md., technology company; Denise Messineo, an executive at an insurance company; and Alison Pullins, director of human resources at Hopkins' School of Continuing Studies. Thrown together as a study group, the women--who come from different generations, parts of the state, cultures, races and even have different Meyers-Briggs results--formed a powerful bond that has helped in nearly every aspect of their lives.
"We've been through divorces, mergers, babies, marriages, everything," Ingram-Smith said. "We call ourselves 'The Energizers.'"
Their common thread, Kirkland said, is that each of the four women is ambitious and determined to succeed in a corporate world, which for many women, can often be a lonely and isolating experience.
"In a corporate environment, being one of the only females in management and in my case, being the only woman and the only minority, you have to learn how to assimilate into that corporate culture," she said. "It's a system or a culture that has already been set up, and it's up to you to learn how to make it in that culture. So it's been the greatest thing to be able to form alliances with other professional women who have gone through similar experiences and can talk about how they deal with it."
It was a particular treat, said the two women, to hear Fudge speak. The 46-year-old African American is married, has two boys and happens to run the biggest coffee-making company in the country.
Fudge, president of Maxwell House Coffee Company and executive vice president of the $1.4 billion Kraft Foods conglomerate, has quietly crashed through the so-called "glass ceiling." Three days before her talk, she was named head of Kraft's Post Cereal Division.
Fudge spoke in detail about the need for a leader to be adaptable. She has to have a vision, to know how to listen, to articulate strong ethics and values through her everyday activities. And she has to run a family-friendly company, she said.
"I am where I am because I had a loving, supportive family growing up," Fudge said. "And I know that my family comes first with me. They are my No. 1 priority, and nothing is more important to me than to have a strong family unit like the one I grew up in."
What Kirkland and Ingram-Smith liked most about the talk was how Fudge's humanity was so apparent.
"It's refreshing to see someone who has made it that far keep a sense of genuineness," Kirkland said. "She seems down-to-earth, like the type of person you would want as a friend."
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