When I arrived at the University of Virginia in the fall of 1970, I was naively unaware of the challenges I would face as part of the first class of women admitted to this traditional, all male, southern university.
My first inkling of what laid ahead was discovering a urinal in the bathroom of my dorm suite and one shower for ten girls…two simple things that I knew right away weren’t going to work for “the girls”.
These simple things were just the tip of the iceberg during a unique four-year experience as a woman in an institution that had been staunchly male for 155 years. It wasn’t always easy but it was a great character builder. Thirty-five years later at a reunion of “the firsts”, I was gratified to hear the Dean of Admissions from that time say that they purposefully choose women who wouldn’t open doors, but women who would knock down doors. That was in fact what we unconsciously had to do as we redefined the undergraduate culture at The University of Virginia.
The many challenges that I faced and the lessons learned during college proved to be invaluable as I continued to be a pioneer for women in business and aviation over the span of my leadership career.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned is that adversity is a gift. Leaders inevitably face daunting and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Taking them on as a challenge and as an opportunity is an approach that separates the average from the exceptional. With this perspective leaders can gain new insights, uncover innovative solutions and increase their capacity to lead through thick or thin.