International Women’s Day panel explores how leadership roles are changing

Students and faculty took the time to gather and learn about powerful women who live and work among our own community.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, members of the Elon community gathered in the Lakeside Meeting Rooms to hear the stories of three local, influential women working to better themselves and those around them through their work.

President Connie Ledoux Book speaking at the International Women’s Day event on March 7, 2024.

“Because more women are assuming leadership roles, our idea of what leadership is today is changing,” President Connie Ledoux Book said at the March 7 event as she discussed a Harvard Business Review study she read about the transformation of work culture with changing gender presence in the past 15 years.

The three panelists for the event included Kristen Powers, executive director of Benevolence Farms in Graham, Ashlie Thomas, a member of the board of directors for Benevolence Farms, and Crystal Cavailar-Keck, founder of 7 Directors of Service, an Indigenous-founded organization that educates and empowers indigenous people to honor the land affect change. The discussion was sponsored by the Gender & LGBTQIA Center, Women’s, Gender and Sexualities Studies and the Women’s Forum and was moderated by Graduate Assistant Vanessa Truelove.

“I wanted to work in national security, so I became a counterintelligence analyst for the Department of Defense, and that was rough,” Cavaliar-Keck explained as she discussed the different stages of her career. “Being a woman of color in a male-dominated field, I had to work really hard to prove myself. I had to fact-check and make sure I was on top of my game. My male counterparts wanted to show me up, and they hated it when I showed them up.”

The three women all have had different backgrounds, family upbringings and purposes for their positions in their career. However, they’ve all worked in community among one another, lifting each other up along the way and serving as a nearby support system.

“I just want to shout out to the woman here,” Powers said. “It was really exciting to see for the panelists woman that we are in community with because I know Crystal and Ashlie have supported me in a lot of ways with Benevolence Farms.”

Though many different topics were tackled throughout the panel, one recurring theme was the difficulty for women to juggle the differing aspects of their identity in a way that fits with societal standards.

Ashlie Thomas, a member of the board of directors for Benevolence Farms, speaks during the International Women’s Day event on March 7, 2024. Fellow panelists are, from left, Crystal Cavalier-Keck and Kristen Powers.

“As women, we got to be better. As a Black woman, I have to be stronger. I have to be able to keep it moving,” Thomas explained. “I have to carry the burdens of the world, but at the same time maintain faith, I have to be a wife, I have to be this, I have to be that, I have to wear all of these different hats but do so in a resilient way. And that is not sustainable all the time.”

The emphasis on community for these women was another topic of importance during the panel, as this year’s theme for International Women’s Day was “Inspiring Inclusion.” This can be seen in many different ways through their career positions.

“Healing does not happen in isolation; it happens in community. I think that is part of what I think of when I think of inclusion,” Powers explained.

To learn more about International Women’s Day, click here.