We Asked, You Answered: Women Leaders You Admire

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we asked readers to tell us about the women leaders they appreciate in the association industry and beyond.

March is Women’s History Month. In honor of that, we asked readers to share some of the women leaders in their lives who have made an impact and inspired them. From being champions for staff to serving as role models, read on for some women inside and outside the association space who have made a difference.

Tom Herron

Senior Director, Market Transformation, National Fenestration Rating Council

I admire Deb Callahan, CEO of the National Fenestration Rating Council, because she always thinks big and inspires the entire staff to do the same. Beyond her vision, perseverance, and empathy, Deb maintains an organizational culture that allows people to do what they do best every day, which maximizes everyone’s talent, creates synergy, and creates new pathways forward. Above all, Deb always treats others with kindness and respect.

Kate Barcal

Director of Administration, Executive Administration, Inc.

Maya Angelou. Her beauty—inside and out, her art, her wisdom, her strength, her determination, her gifts to humanity.

Dana J. Murn, CAE

Associate Director, AMPED Association Management      

I’ve had the pleasure and luck of many women mentors through my career at this point. The mentor who continues to leave a lasting impression is Barb Kachelski, MBA, CAE, executive director of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. Barb taught me to trust in my expertise and showed me how to lead with humility and compassion in all experiences. She is the true definition of a servant leader. I’m grateful every day that I not only have been able to learn from her but also to work for and alongside her and have her champion me.

Kristine Metter

President, Crystal Lake Partners

Throughout history, we can point to moments where women were limited in what they could do and had a short horizon for what was possible. Throughout history, we can also point to women who did not accept that framework. Women who broke the mold and blazed new trails. One of those women is someone known as Sylvia to many, but to me, she is simply mom. Born in 1931, she was the first of eight siblings to attend and finish college. Long before Title IX, she engaged in sports of all kinds. As a life science teacher, she mentored and developed hundreds of preteens over two decades. Growing up, she taught me to work hard, be patient, think of others, figure it out, and be happy. Today, at 91, she is an active, vibrant retiree who still lives independently, golfs, swims, gardens, and plays bridge. She is truly grateful for all she has. And I am truly lucky to have her as a role model and guiding light in my life.

Janay Rickwalder

VP, Communications and Marketing, Investment Adviser Association

The first thing that Lori Anderson did when she showed up at ISA headquarters in 2005 as our new CEO— the fourth in as many years—was introduce herself as a wife and a mother and then as our new boss. She eloquently set the stage for us, and every single woman in that room was smitten. But while Lori is both a wife and a mom, she is also a lioness. She challenged our board and protected her team. She made us take a pause and think through our decision-making. On her wall, she had an anti-the-way we’ve-always-done-it sign. Personally, Lori is now my friend and mentor. I can guarantee she doesn’t know the ways she has impacted and inspired me. In fact, while I don’t have an actual sign in my office, I do consistently ask myself, “What would Lori do?”

Beth Surmont

Vice President, Event Design and Strategy, 360 Live Media

Someone who has made an incredible impact on me and the world is Elena Gerstmann, the executive director of INFORMS. (I’m also lucky enough to be married to her.) She is also one of the only openly lesbian association CEOs. Elena is a guiding force for her team, her organization, and her peers. She really cares about people, and this is evident in how she works to mentor and help people become their best selves. She is focused on continuous improvement, including for herself, and she is always actively learning. As a leader, she works to amplify other voices and is passionate about DEI and social justice. Whether it is taking the time to talk through an issue, give advice to a peer, or sending someone flowers, Elena approaches all her interactions with kindness, wisdom, and care.

((Natalia Kirienko/iStock/Getty Images)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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