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    Monday, February 26, 2024

    Women leaders in community offer frank thoughts on career paths, challenges

    Groton — Kate Farrar realizes that people may look at her LinkedIn page or resume and see a "very well-planned and plotted path" to her current position as executive director of the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund.

    But that's not the case.

    They may not know she "ran away" to live and work in London for half a year, and then to Yellowstone. They may not know she moved back to Connecticut with the intent of running for office, and that running a nonprofit was not originally in her sights.

    When she started at CWEALF, she didn't know much about its primary initiative: the ultimately successful campaign to get a paid family and medical leave plan passed in the state. It became a personal issue for Farrar; she recalled writing testimony in support of the bill while on a plane to see her ill mother-in-law.

    Farrar was the keynote speaker at the third annual Women Leaders Making a Difference event, held Friday afternoon at the University of Connecticut's Avery Point campus.

    A panel discussion featured Wendy Bury, executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition; Tricia Cunningham, director of community relations at Fairview in Groton; Hannah Gant, co-founder of the restaurant and cultivator kitchen RD86 in New London; Ornet Hines, assistant vice president and branch manager at Liberty Bank in Norwich; and Beatrice Jennette, founder and president of the girl-empowerment nonprofit STEPS Inc.

    Generating frank, personal answers, moderator Susette Tibus — owner of the Mystic jewelry store Simply Majestic — asked thought-provoking questions such as, "What makes you lose track of time?" and "What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?"

    In her keynote address, Farrar had quoted Shirley Chisholm, who 50 years ago became the first black woman elected to Congress: "If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair."

    Or, if you're Wendy Bury, you take the seat of someone who had been given a spot at the table but who you knew wasn't able to make it, and you quietly turn his name card down.

    This happened, she said, after she wasn't specifically invited to a meeting but felt she should be there.

    "Not one person looked at me like, 'What are you doing?'" she said. "I was the only person worried about it." She added that she doesn't think men think about stuff like that.

    Tibus had asked a question about how a female leader is different from a male leader. Gant talked about her efforts to think about the difference between having power and being a leader, noting that some men in power lack self-awareness and "have blind spots about the larger contexts, the experiences people deal with."

    Asked about how earlier career choices led to where they are now, Jennette told the emotional story of having a brain aneurism after working at Pfizer for 20 years.

    "You feel like your whole life, everything's been blown up, everything you worked for," Jennette said. But she added that her sickness helped her discover her passion for supporting girls, and she was amazed at the support from her community.

    Cunningham reflected that the "big thing is not being afraid to expand your horizons, not being afraid to say yes, and not being afraid to step outside of your comfort zone."

    But for Hines, a big part of setting boundaries has been learning how to say no. She doesn't want to let people down, but she knows she also needs to take care of herself.

    The event has the support of UConn Women and Philanthropy, a part of the UConn Foundation. Tibus and Joyce Resnikoff, owner of Olde Mistick Village, helped establish a scholarship, which was awarded this year to Avery Point student Fatima Abu Bakr.

    e.moser@theday.com

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