We asked UAB’s women senior leaders to share advice for young professionals — here’s what they said

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Earlier this year, UAB was recognized as one of just 13 institutions ranked as national leaders in racial and gender diversity in leadership, according to a 2021 report conducted by the Women’s Power Gap Initiative at the Eos Foundation, in partnership with the American Association of University Women.

Read more about the report on UAB News.

“The Women’s Power Gap at Elite Universities: Scaling the Ivory Tower” ranks the nation’s 130 elite research universities along gender and racial lines, with UAB ranking 12th overall. UAB was acknowledged for racial and gender-specific advancements among leadership for several factors — women make up 50% of UAB’s academic deans, 29% of tenured full professors and 38% of the university’s president’s cabinet. Additionally, UAB’s provost, Pam Benoit, P.D., is a woman, in addition to two of UAB’s past presidents.

“Women have to advance one another on the path to leadership by empowering, nurturing and contributing to women’s thriving and achieving, and I believe women benefit from having other women as role models and mentors,” said UAB Provost Pam Benoit, Ph.D. “I appreciate being able to bring a different perspective and approach into decision-making as a woman in leadership. It is not uncommon to be the only female in the room, and I have worked to counter stereotypes. I am fortunate to have supportive colleagues at UAB, where there is a true commitment to inclusivity.”

  • Pam Benoit, Ph.D.
  • Shannon Blanton, Ph.D.
  • Dawn Bulgarella
  • Paulette Dilworth, Ph.D.
  • Kasia Gonnerman
  • Janet May
  • Kelly Nichols, O.D.
  • Rosie O’Beirne
  • Michelle Robinson, DMD
  • Lisa Schiwebert, Ph.D.
  • Maria Rodriguez Shirey, Ph.D.
  • Kecia Thomas, Ph.D.
  • Pam Benoit, Ph.D.

    Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

    “Assess your strengths and gaps in your skills. Find ways to fill those gaps by looking for opportunities to learn. Trust your intuition, be flexible and look for opportunities to contribute to your institution.”

  • Shannon Blanton, Ph.D.

    Dean, Honors College

    “Seek opportunities to broaden your experience, learn new things and expand your skillset. It could start as volunteering to be on a project team, representing your unit on a committee or taking the lead in proposing a solution to a challenging problem. Embrace additional responsibilities and leadership roles, collaborate effectively with others and be resilient in the face of changing situations and you will develop your ability and reputation as someone who can make a difference.”

  • Dawn Bulgarella

    President, and Interim CEO, UAB Health System
    CFO, UAB/Ascension St. Vincent’s Alliance

    “A successful career involves a lot of individual hard work and an individual’s ability to work well as a member of a team. With that in mind, my advice: Be flexible — sometimes you’ll lead, and sometimes you follow. Be a good communicator, including being a good listener. Be kind to others, and never stop learning new things.”

  • Paulette Dilworth, Ph.D.

    Vice President, Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

    “My advice to women who aspire to be in leadership roles is to be very intentional about nurturing your career and professional development. Be vigilant about seeking out other successful people, especially women. Be intentional about establishing a relationship with seasoned individuals that you can develop a mentor-sponsor relationship. Remember to own your career.”

  • Kasia Gonnerman

    Dean, UAB Libraries

    “Be open-minded, curious and insatiably hungry to learn more: from anyone, any time. Question the status quo and consider an issue from various perspectives, even the ones you don’t particularly like. Learn to take an educated risk and enjoy the thrill of entering new territory, and find mentors, colleagues and professional networks to guide you through inevitable ups and downs. Put your trust in others and be trustworthy.”

  • Janet May

    Chief Human Resources Officer

    “The best advice I can offer is to have a mentor and understand that as your career changes, your mentor may also change. You always need that one person you can call or have a cup of coffee with at any time who will give you honest feedback. Careers, just like life, will ebb and flow. Sometimes you have to take a step back and regroup to take the next step forward in your career. Taking a step back does not mean you failed — it means you realized you needed to take a deeper look to assess where you are now, where you want to be and the path to get there.”

  • Kelly Nichols, O.D.

    Dean, School of Optometry

    “My advice for future professional school deans, like Optometry, would be to ensure you achieve the appropriate credentials for the type of school you hope to lead. That likely includes a professional degree, like doctor of optometry (O.D.), combined with either a master’s degree or Ph.D., which is especially important at a strong research university like UAB. Secondly, develop leadership skills by volunteering in societies or similar professional organizations, and practice what you learn in leadership seminars and books. Talent, willingness to help and execution never go unnoticed!

    At every stage of your career, have mentors. Don’t be afraid to ask! No one ever says ‘no’ to the compliment of being asked to be a mentor, and mentoring can cover a broad range of topics and experiences and can be extremely rewarding for both parties involved.

    Lastly, be ready to take the risk and walk through an open door to new experiences. Plan — but also dream big — and you will be rewarded.”

  • Rosie O’Beirne

    Chief Digital Strategy & Marketing Officer

    “Pay attention to what you are good at and what you naturally enjoy doing, then seek out work that can highlight those skillsets. Be open to opportunities that may lead you somewhere unexpected — they can be quite rewarding.

    And mistakes we make along the way are part of becoming an expert in your field. The key is to learn from them and always use them as a path to improve your knowledge and expertise.

    Contribute to diversifying your field. I’ve had many people help me along the way. I want to pay that forward so I actively seek out opportunities to mentor, advise and advocate for others. Eventually, you can be in a position to help create opportunities for others, and this is perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of career advancement.”

  • Michelle Robinson, DMD

    Interim Dean, School of Education

    “Throughout my career, I have always focused on my relationships and making sure everyone around me knows how much I appreciate them, from janitorial staff to my fellow school leaders. It takes a village to ensure everything is moving efficiently and effectively, and I know that I can't accomplish any of my goals, tasks or special projects without help.

    I would also advise young women to continue to evolve and learn constantly. The more skills you can acquire from picking up a task here or there, the more you can achieve professionally.”

  • Lisa Schiwebert, Ph.D.

    Interim Dean, Graduate School

    “Throughout my research and administrative roles, I have learned the importance of mentoring and being mentored. Collectively, these experiences have taught me to be intentional and strategic when committing my energy to an idea or effort. So, I would advise that, before you agree to participate or collaborate on an initiative, make sure that it aligns with your priorities, complements your ongoing initiatives and, importantly, allows you to improve. If it doesn’t, give yourself permission to say no — or at least not now. In doing so, you will take ownership your path forward and your own success.”

  • Maria Rodriguez Shirey, Ph.D.

    Dean, School of Nursing

    “I have always been a lifelong learner and I have always had goals. My goals were about ‘How do I prepare myself for the next step that I wish to pursue?’ Not from a competitive approach, competing with others, but rather from within myself. What accountability do I need to have for my own learning to be able to be positioned for the next experience?

    The other thing that is important is that I don’t see work as a burden, so when opportunities present themselves, I see them as opportunities, not necessarily as added work. You need to allow yourself to be open to possibilities and serendipity, and to know that there are opportunities you do not forgo because they are not going to happen again. While the timing of these opportunities may not always be exactly when you want them, you still need to jump in there and take advantage of those possibilities that are presented to you.

    The next thing that has been important is trying to find the right mentors at the different stages of my career. Unfortunately, I haven’t always had good mentors at every point in time, yet I’ve continued to pursue looking for those good mentors. And when you find a good one, take their advice with momentum and gumption, follow through on the advice so others will be inclined to invest in you, and when good things happen, rejoice and celebrate with those who facilitated the opportunities for you and pass it forward to the next person.”

    The School of Nursing deserves special recognition for their commitment to women leadership. Doreen Harper, Ph.D., led the school as dean from 2005-2021, including during the window of this report. After Harper’s retirement in January, Linda Moneyham served as interim dean, continuing the school’s momentum until Shirey’s appointment June 1.

  • Kecia Thomas, Ph.D.

    Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

    "The best piece of advice I can offer is to cultivate a diverse network of trusted friends and colleagues. When I look back at major moments in my career, those successes were possible because I had a squad or friend group that brought balance and perspective to my often-hectic life. At many times, those same people — often women — were collaborators or cheerleaders who encouraged my risk-taking and vulnerability. Remember, you can’t make old friends, so make sure you carve out time to nurture those relationships and lift others as you climb."