President Olian, Hamden Mayor Garrett speak with Business Dean Raider about female leadership

By Shannon Flaherty '22 February 15, 2022

President Olian speaks with Dean Raider and Mayor Lauren Garrett.

Quinnipiac President Judy Olian urged aspiring leaders to seek counsel from others — and not be misled by their own preconceived notions.

Olian and Hamden Mayor Lauren Garrett spoke to members of the university and Hamden communities in a People’s United Center for Women and Business-sponsored fireside chat moderated by School of Business Dean Holly Raider.

The spirit of collaboration and partnership was celebrated throughout the February 14 event in the Mount Carmel Auditorium.

“One of the real challenges in leadership — and it doesn’t matter at what level you are leading — is that it’s very easy to start becoming easily isolated and out of touch,” Olian warned. “All leaders need to overcome the natural barrier of not getting too wrapped up in their own worlds.”

In order to be a successful female leader, you must work extra hard to be exceptional, Olian said.

“You have to be a little more outstanding than your male peers so that nobody ever has any grounds to come to you and say ‘Well, that wasn’t quite as good as someone else,’” she encouraged. “It’s equally as important to take risks and seek volunteer opportunities.”

In fact, Olian cited her own volunteer experiences and history of taking calculated risks as two of the reasons she ultimately earned her current position.

“If you don’t take risks, you’re always going to be in your lane and never advance,” she said.

Garrett said she feels fortunate to be supported by so many other women in key roles throughout Hamden government.

“It’s comforting to know that I am not alone,” she said. “I feel grateful that many members of my staff are women, including women of color, and that I have all of these talented people to lean on as resources and sounding boards.”

She echoed Olian’s need to seek input from others and escape her inner circle to be an effective and present leader.

“We’re bringing more diversity into the town of Hamden and that diversity reflects the faces that we have throughout our town,” Garrett said.

Diversifying at the top level of any structure enriches perspective and better represents an entire population, especially during a pandemic, Olian said. She noted that 40% of the hires last year at Quinnipiac were of historically underrepresented groups.

By doing this, she said, students can see themselves in that future through an expanding number of role models.

Olian cited attending a half-dozen events last weekend — from academic lectures to athletic matches — to illustrate the importance of being accessible to various members of the Quinnipiac community.

She emphasized that Quinnipiac and Hamden are strategic partners: “The healthier Hamden is, the more attractive its location is for our students and the more vibrant Quinnipiac is, the healthier economically and socially the town is.”

Olian praised Garrett’s leadership and said they’ve already had multiple meetings about the common goals of the university and town — and ways in which different initiatives and individuals will be able to make a tangible, positive difference. The university and town have worked collaboratively for years through various means, including summer fellowships throughout Hamden government — opportunities both women hope to expand.

Olian applauded the work that Quinnipiac students, staff and faculty contribute to Hamden as well as Greater New Haven — with a nod to the Big Event, a day-long, community-service celebration that attracts thousands of volunteers each year.

She and her team have been very mindful about the fact that there are really two pandemics — one of the health and disease aspect, and one of mental health. Olian said she recognizes that younger individuals are more prone to the emotional consequences of the pandemic and must do everything possible to enable safe, in-person interaction.

“Getting back to on-ground classes has been very important and a key goal for us here at Quinnipiac, because let’s face it, we were born to be social beings,” Olian said. “The pressure of the digital age compounded with the pandemic can translate to vulnerability for our students. It is critical that we foster student development and preserve normalcy, recognizing that for a 20 year old, two years in a pandemic is 10% of their life.”

Garrett echoed Olian’s sentiments on the importance of being together, citing her goal of building a new community center for residents to learn and grow in. Currently, Quinnipiac students are heavily involved with the Keefe Center in the southern part of town. Garrett also promises “the best Hamden Fest ever” this summer, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.

“I am so excited to get the community back together,” she said. “If everything stays on track with COVID numbers going down and more people getting vaccinated, I am confident we will have an incredible celebration of community.”

Establishing leadership at the highest levels provides role models for everyone, Olian said.

“These individuals can become change agents about what happens in the community as well as in leadership structures,” she said. “Diversifying at the top enriches perspectives and opportunities for a community.”

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