Women in Management talk tackles global leadership challenges—and motherhood

In a presentation of stories and experiences collected through 15 years of international work, Heather Wipfli, associate director of the USC Institute for Global Health, shared with women on Nov. 15 the challenges she has faced pursuing a global leadership career. The talk at the Health Sciences campus was organized by Women in Management, a USC group that formed in 1979 to provide a forum for communication, development and career opportunities for the university’s increasing number of women leaders. With approximately 150 members, the program has been working to extend its reach to HSC in recent years.

In her speech, Wipfli shared anecdotes demonstrating the techniques she uses to break down culture and gender barriers to develop close relationships, which she cites as the key to her success.

She also focused on one issue she said she continues to grapple with: motherhood.

It’s a hot topic these days—can women have it all? This year, the subject has been making waves with a media flurry of controversial, high-profile stories professing the possibility or impossibility of women successfully juggling family and high-powered careers. The back-and-forth on this matter has never hit closer to home for Wipfli, who is married with three children under the age of 10.

“My professional ‘success’ at the moment provides considerable anxiety in my life. But this isn’t unique to the global nature of my career,” she said. “These challenges confront all of us moms in academia, where tenure clocks run concurrently with childbearing, and more importantly—and not often enough stressed—child-rearing years.”

USC can help mitigate some of the challenges for its women leaders who are mothers, but responsibility to improve conditions lies within women themselves, Wipfli said. “Women need to ask and learn from each other about our realities.”

Most of the event attendees were WIM members and USC faculty, but Kate Setterlund, a new mother with experience in the global health field, came to the talk because she is looking to transition back into her career.

“I didn’t know what [Heather was] going to talk about today, but it’s just so perfect—I couldn’t believe it,” she said, adding that Wipfli’s stories resonated deeply with her own experience living in Vietnam while working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Several women, inspired, stood up after the talk to share their own stories.

Membership in the organization is $25 per year and provides a discount to monthly luncheons at both campuses. For more information, see www.uscwim.org.