Dawne Gee spoke at the fifth annual Women's Leadership Conference about the power of a positive attitude.
Dawne Gee spoke at the fifth annual Women's Leadership Conference about the power of a positive attitude.

About 50 UofL employees attended the Pathways Women’s Leadership Conference May 19, the fifth year for the event sponsored by the Commission on the Status of Women, Commission on Diversity and Racial Equality, Delphi Center, HR, Office of the COO and Office of the Provost.

Speakers included Melissa Shuter, conference program chair and executive director of Business Operations; Toni Ganzel, dean of the School of Medicine and interim executive dean for Health Sciences; Dawne Gee, WAVE 3 News anchor and host; and Maryanne Honeycutt Elliott, an instructor in the Delphi Center. Participants were also treated to intermittent mindfulness exercises led by Karen Newton, and a mindfulness workshop, led by Katrina Kaufman, both from UofL Health Promotions.

Toni Ganzel

Toni Ganzel talked about her career path, which led to her becoming the first female dean of the School of Medicine in its 180-year existence. She grew up in an Air Force family, which taught her how to be adaptable. When she was young, she wanted to be Wonder Woman, complete with red boots. When she realized Wonder Woman was fictional, she wanted to be a flight attendant, also complete with red boots.

In seventh grade, however, Ganzel started to become interested in science.

“I didn’t want to go to med school, but I did well on my MCAT so I thought ‘what the heck?’” she said.

Eventually, Ganzel also received her MBA as she thought it would help her better serve patients and the medical field in general. 

When Ganzel was approached to take on the then-interim dean role in 2012, her response was “Who, me?” She said her response would be much different now. “Why not me?” she said.

Ganzel said the sweet spot of leadership is when passion, goals and skillset meet opportunity and timing. She also noted her optimism about the future of UofL.

“We’re at an inflection point,” she said. “Bright days are ahead.”

Dawne Gee

Dawne Gee, who identified as a “proud UofL alum” during her presentation, discussed the challenges she has overcome since fighting a cancer diagnosis in 2014 and experiencing a stroke on Nov. 25, 2016, noting she can stand for about 26 minutes at a time and is still recovering. She said being mindful of her attitude is what has helped her most through these struggles.

“Attitude is like your underwear. You get up, you pick what you’re going to wear and if you don’t like it, you change it. You either put on a pair that is comfy or you put on a pair that rides you all day,” she joked. “Happiness is a choice. The only difference between a good day and a bad day is attitude.”

Gee encouraged attendees to go on a “mental health diet,” in which they go seven consecutive days saying nothing but good things. She admits she starts this diet over all the time.

“If I was still in that place I was in when I had the stroke, when I couldn’t walk … I wrapped myself in depression like a coat,” Gee said, holding back tears. “One day I made a decision to stop. Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right. But you have to claim your ‘I am.’ And I am whole.”

Gee also discussed her career at WAVE, which she joined in 1994. At first, she was told she would never be on TV, but she persisted.

“They didn’t know me. I applied to WAVE nine times,” she said. “Every time I hear someone saying ‘you’re not going to do it,’ I just cut that chatter out. We have to decide for ourselves what we can do.”

Gee also warned attendees to be aware of what others may be going through.

“I guarantee someone in this room – someone at your table – is going through a battle you know nothing about,” she said. “If someone snaps at you, cut them a break. You don’t know what they’re going through.”

Finally, Gee told participants to take care of themselves and “be in the moment you’re in because it won’t come again.”

Maryanne Honeycutt Elliott

Maryanne Honeycutt Elliott guided participants through the DiSC assessments they were tasked with taking prior to the conference. DiSC scores profiles based on a series of questions and ranks them based on potential strengths and weaknesses in Dominance (results-oriented, decisive, independent), Influence (enthusiastic, talkers), Steadiness (stable, agreeable, helpful) and Conscientious (detailed, orderly, persistent).

“We can flex into any style, we just tend to come back to the comfortable domain,” Elliott explained. “DiSC is designed to grow self-awareness. Part of leadership is knowing yourself well. Self-awareness is the key to working effectively with others. Great teams are comprised of people all over the DiSC chart.”


The conference also included videos and slides created to make attendees think about perceptions, reality and leadership attributes.

For example, women speak about 20,000 words a day, or about 13,000 more words than men. In 2015, women made, on average, 80 cents to the dollar. The women’s labor force participation rate is projected to be 57 percent by 2020.  

Commercials shown included Pantene’s “Not Sorry Shine Strong;” Always’ “Like a Girl;” and Dove’s “You’re More Beautiful Than You Think.”

Also, Drew Dudley’s “Leading with Lollipops” TEDx talk was shown and is embedded below.

The 6th annual Pathways Women’s Leadership Conference is scheduled for May 18, 2018.