Celebrating Women’s History Month with PTF Staff

Blog, Women's History Month | 03/01/2023

The Pat Tillman Foundation is proud to honor and reflect on Women’s History Month, a time where we can celebrate the strides women have made for equality while challenging us to continue the work that needs to be done. Our organization was founded in large part to the strong women in Pat’s life who knew his legacy would continue to make the impact in the world to make it a better place for everyone. The leadership they face during adversity has helped to cultivate an environment of strong women leaders who continue to drive our mission today.

To kick off this month, we wanted to pass the mic along to the women on staff at PTF as they reflect on the leadership women bring to the world. Check out their thoughts below:

What makes a good leader?

Mercedes Rohlfs, Director of Development: “Such a big question and one that evolves over a lifetime. But, I think good leadership is displayed when someone has empathy and self awareness, displays courage and tenacity, asks key questions and sees opportunities, desires growth and learning, and adapts to changing circumstances and goals. I have also adopted the attitude that there’s nothing I would ask my colleagues or direct reports to do that I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.”

Dani Kawaguchi, Programs Associate: “Empathy, dedication, compassion, resilience, humor… The list of qualities that make up a good leader is exhaustive, but when it comes down to it, a good leader acknowledges that they’re a work in progress. Good leaders continuously dedicate time to take in feedback, work on and care for themselves and support good ideas, no matter where they come from.”

Sara Peavler, Pat’s Run Coordinator: “A good leader needs to encompass so much! I feel the main trait of a good leader is communication. Communication plays a huge role in the success of everything a leader touches. Being able to communicate clearly and without judgment helps to promote positive relationships with those around them. This includes their non verbal communication and their ability to listen effectively. A good leader should be encouraging and supportive of the success and growth of their team as individuals and the business as a whole. They should be able to provide guidance and inspiration to those around them.”

Tina Bruenning, Scholarships Manager: “I believe a good leader is one who is passionate about developing and nurturing others to become an even better leader than themself. Good leaders should also want to have a trusting and respectful relationship with those that they lead.

Why do we need more women in leadership?

Aerial Reese, Programs Manager: “Diversity in perspectives equals diversity in solutions!”

Erica Abdnour, Marketing Manager: “Women taking lead roles in the workplace fosters equity, creates diverse ideas, and inspires career advancement for current and prospective employees. When women are given a seat at the table, they provide a perspective that stems from empathy and logic that may not otherwise be considered – which ultimately sets the entire team up for success.”

Stephanie Wolf, Events Manager: “I think there are a lot of reasons we need more women leaders – it breaks down gender barriers, creates positive role models, and the enhancement of teamwork, to name a few. Having a female leader continues to challenge the social norms of leadership and success. A female leader who can provide mentorship helps empower young professionals and be a source of encouragement in their professional life. Women often are passionate, empathetic, and take charge when needed; this often leads to solid decision-makers and creates a cooperative environment rather than authoritative, ultimately boosting teamwork and work culture.”

Nora Beirne, Development Manager: “I think seeing women in leadership is so important for the women and young ladies who will follow in their footsteps. I have been so lucky to have had some amazing female mentors in my life. They have taught me what it means to be passionate, persistent, and always take a seat at the table. I hope one day to have this impact in a young woman’s life, and until then I will champion strong female leaders who are trail blazing in all industries.”

What advice do you have for an emerging woman leader?

Stevie Kuenn, Director of Marketing: “I do believe you can have what you want, but you have to work for it. Accept that sometimes the demands will be annoying, but you can have work-life balance, you can have a fulfilling life both in and out of work. You have to find mentors who have been there before, you have to find allies who put their privilege behind you, and you have to be outspoken about what you need and what you want. You have to be curious and willing to keep growing. And you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, because women aren’t conditioned to do these things. I feel very lucky because I have had mentors who supported me and coached me through stuff, I have an amazingly supportive ally in our CEO, I have a great set of peers on our executive team who also talk openly about the challenges we have as women in leadership. I love that I work somewhere now that encourages these types of curiosity and conversation, and I love that I’m now in a position to give back what was given to me as I climbed the ladder.”

Colleen Reaney, Director of Tillman Leadership Institute: “Everyone has their own unique style of management and leadership they bring with them to the office. My advice I would share with all young women is to KNOW YOUR WORTH! Women bring incredible value and attributes to the workplace of organizational skills, empathetic leadership, creativity and innovation, and more that can be very useful in all industries, especially in the c-suite. Identifying the value add you bring to your teams is key. Be transparent, over communicate, and understand your worth to the organization to make it the best experience for you.”

Tabatha Renz, Interim Director of Programs: “Don’t wait for someone to give you an invitation to show up (and don’t be sorry when you do show up). I feel like sometimes young women miss out on opportunities for leadership growth because nobody asked them to have a seat at the table and they don’t think it is okay to take the initiative. See a networking event or meeting that would be good for you to attend or present at? Identify someone that can help you achieve that and just ask. Potential starts with showing up.”

Sabrina Perales, Director of Operations: “Find a mentor you trust, lead your own professional development to get you to where you want to go, and have confidence in the skills and abilities you bring to the table. I spent too long not trusting my experience and believing my voice wasn’t as important as my colleagues, but through conversations with mentors, I developed the confidence I needed to voice my opinions. For your own professional growth, start looking at roles you aspire to do and begin learning the different skills required – whether that is through public speaking courses, management and leadership training, financial statement literacy classes, learning a creative platform, or whatever path you are on, there are classes and training programs for you to take. Never stop learning and lead your professional (and personal) development.”

Which influential woman in history would you invite to a dinner party and why?

Kathy O’Neill, Scholar Support Coordinator: “Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman in Congress. In 1972, she made history again by becoming the first Black woman of a major party to run for a presidential nomination. She was an outspoken advocacy for women, children and minorities during her seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Chisholm once said, ‘If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.’ I would be honored to share a chair and a meal with this woman of firsts.”

Ivy Richey, Operations Coordinator: “Sandra Day O’Connor – She played an important role in many notable cases and by 1973, she became the first woman to serve as Arizona’s or any state’s Majority Leader. She also served as the first female associate justice of the Supreme Court of the US and was both the first woman nominated and the first confirmed to the court. I am honored to have received my master’s degree from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, and would love to thank her for her grit and determination to pave a way for women in America. She never denied that she faced challenges, but she never let adversity define her either.”

Tara Orris, Chief of Staff: “I would invite Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the second female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Ginsburg has been an inspiration to me; from being a full time mother and care giver while attending Harvard Law School as one of only eight women in her class to becoming the Supreme Court’s second female justice as well as the first Jewish female justice, she exemplified bravery, dignity, and drive.”