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Women Leaders at WWU

Women Leaders at WWU

The Female Perspective of Leadership 

By Brooklin Painter 

In honor of Women’s History Month, The Collegian spoke with women in leadership positions. Throughout the years, there have been women presidents in ASWWU, various school clubs, Vice Presidents in Administration, Presidents in Human Resources and Academic Administration, and Vice Presidents in the President’s Cabinet. These two women discussed what it is like to be a female in leadership at Walla Walla University. 

Erika Sanderson, the WWU Director of Human Resources, said her role on campus is a unique kind of position. Her approach is to be a resource and voice for everyone. Sanderson sees her position as one of service. She contributes her time to be a listening ear for others and to be a safe place for people to speak. 

A photo of Erika Sanderson, Director of Human Resources. Taken in 2019.

Sanderson said, “My perspective on campus is to give a voice to raise concerns. I try to make a difference as I see a lot of adjustments, growth, and ways that I can bring value to campus. I think some of that is just relationship building.” [1] 

Jodi Wagner, the Vice President for University Relations and Advancement, said her role focuses on developing connections with colleagues and to ensure they feel supported in their work and to help everyone on the team succeed. She believes good leaders are service-oriented and focused on cultivating an enthusiastic work environment.  

“Leadership often means you fill in the gaps of whatever is needed, whether it’s about managing the budget or helping an employee that has had devastating news just get through their day. This is something I’ve learned along the way. Nobody told me how much filling in the gaps a leader does. I love it,” said Wagner. [2] 

Both of these women believe their voices are heard and respected on campus. Sanderson said she always feels welcome and valued when walking into a room. Wagner said she doesn’t notice that she is the only woman in the room at times. It pleases her because she generally hasn’t felt a difference between genders in her work. It signals a respect for the both the work and each other. 

Something Wagner never thought she would do as a leader is manage the Alumni and Advancement Services office. “I never thought I would be a fundraiser and when I was asked to step into that role, I found it really ironic. My perspective has changed because I am supporting that talented team. Even though fundraising wasn’t my first choice, it has been really fulfilling,” said Wagner. [3] 

When Sanderson is met with obstacles in her path, she tells herself to overcome the negative ideas in her head. She gave the same advice to everyone else by saying, “Overcome the idea that you don’t have the traditional path to that position. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be very successful in fulfilling it. Be willing to step up and give voice to things that you see or that you feel need to change. Be willing to make yourself a little bit vulnerable and become okay with that. Do your best to accomplish it.” [4] 

One of Wagner’s biggest career challenges has been choosing to be a working mom while balancing professional assignments. One year, for example, she traveled six weeks for work while she had a one year old and four year old at home.  

“I’ve had to make sure that I was doing well for the people I work with, and for my family. I think that was probably has been the biggest weight on my shoulders as a female leader, something that I’ve had to try to figure out and navigate,” said Wagner. [5] 

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A graduate in a yellow robe and graduation cap walks into the distance on a trail, while their parents hold hands in the foreground, watching them walk away.

An accomplishment Sanderson has attained is surviving through difficult times during Covid. “I had to navigate a lot of changing regulations and legislation policy adjustments. Trying to provide support to individuals’ families, maintaining a professional setting, while also managing personal challenges and griefs was a lot.” [6] 

Sanderson left women with this advice: “I think anyone, man or woman, within the outer circle, can do a lot if they bring a harder service and make that the core of their central mission. Hold up to it every morning; that’s your focus. If you can sustain yourself during a lot of the days where it doesn’t look like you’re able to be successful, you can help someone in the ways that you really want to. As long as you can maintain relationships and be of service to others, it will help a lot.” [7] 

The advice Wagner left women with is to be confident in what they are capable of. Wagner said, “I think it’s important to be confident in a space regardless of who you are. Women who are leaning into leadership should take on opportunities without hesitation.” [8] 

Wagner continued, “I wouldn’t wish for a young woman to walk into a space with a preconceived idea that because she’s a woman, she will be ‘less than.’ I don’t think that’s true. I hope she would instead focus on walking in fully prepared, confident, and excited to contribute. To be the hardest worker in the group not because she has to prove something, but because she’s fully capable,” [9] 

References 

  1. Interview with Erika Sanderson, 3/2/2022. 
  1. Interview with Jodi Wagner, 3/2/2022. 
  1. Ibid
  1. Interview with Erika Sanderson, 3/2/2022. 
  1. Interview with Jodi Wagner, 3/2/2022. 
  1. Interview with Erika Sanderson, 3/2/2022. 
  1. Ibid
  1. Interview with Jodi Wagner, 3/2/2022. 
  1. Ibid
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