When Women Lead: Making a Difference
Find a woman who is successful in their field, and it is likely they are fueled in part by passion.
Sun Life president of health and risk solutions Jennifer Collier and Glendowlyn Thames, Amazon’s head of economic development for Connecticut and New York, have that in common.
Passion, drive, and dedication.
“Our career paths are vastly different, however there’s a lot of intersection,” Collier told more than 350 business leaders during a fireside chat between the two women at CBIA’s annual When Women Lead conference May 18.
Their passion has helped them find success in their careers and taught them lessons of leadership, mentoring, and balance along the way.
Born and raised in Hartford, Thames has always had pride in her city.
She left Connecticut for Hofstra University and then spent time living in South Africa before that hometown call grew too strong.
“I was really interested in the fashion and entertainment industry, but quickly realized that’s not where my passion lies, and came back stateside to explore opportunities back in Connecticut and my hometown Hartford,” Thames said.
An opportunity with the mayor’s office gave her more than a glimpse of public service and she pursued her master’s degree in public policy at Trinity College before fully diving into the public sector.
She went on to hold leadership positions at Connecticut Innovations, CTNext, and the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, and also served as president of the Hartford City Council.
Despite a busy travel schedule working for Amazon in Connecticut and New York, Thames chooses to live and raise her family in Hartford.
“I just have an affinity for Hartford specifically because I still live there and wanting it to succeed and just being you know, a part of its past, present, and future and really trying to drive our city forward,” she said.
Pivot for Passion
For Collier, her love for healthcare has been a driving force.
A nurse at UConn Health, she loved what she did. She left after her son’s premature birth to give him the attention he needed and soon pivoted to supporting kids with disabilities.
Searching for a better understanding of the business side, she went back to school before taking a job that would both challenge her and provide opportunities for growth.
“I decided I wanted healthcare to be a better place and that the only way to do that would be part of the change,” Collier said.
Collier spent nearly two decades working her way up the ladder at Cigna. She left there four years ago to join Sun Life’s team, a leap for her.
“The really exciting part for me is they were stepping into the health side, and the opportunity to make a difference there,” Collier said.
Collier said throughout her career she has seen women hesitate to go for opportunities because they did not feel qualified.
Jumping in and finding a way to transfer her skills helped Collier succeed.
Thames said because she took leaps, she was given opportunities as well.
When Thames was figuring out her next step after graduate school, she applied for a job at Connecticut Innovations, essentially in venture capital. It was an opportunity she was not sure she qualified for.
After stressful interviews and the presentation process to get the job, she landed the opportunity.
While there may have been others who appeared more qualified on paper, the team appreciated her collaborative approach to solving problems, a skill she attained through her life experiences.
Both women said mentor and mentee relationships have played an integral role in their careers.
“There are some that last a really long time and there are others that kind of come in and are important, valuable at the point that they come in, and then they may fade a bit,” Collier said.
Thames said she has found mentors in women in other positions across the state, including Shipman & Goodwin managing partner Leander Dolphin and Women’s Business Development Council founder Fran Pastore.
Other mentors came from her workplace.
“I have had phenomenal women leaders that I have worked for that have been mentors and really had a genuine interest in who I was as not only their employee, but were interested in what’s next for me,” Thames said.
She said she takes a similar approach with mentees to understand how they see their role, how they feel about their work, and what they are looking for longterm.
While Thames cannot always find ways to promote them, she can give them projects that will challenge them and strengthen their skills in areas where they want to focus.
One recent mentee came from a recommendation from a colleague at Amazon.
“I learned a lot from her and, you know, I helped her with some things and we’ve just been organically growing a relationship,” Thames said.
Collier said mentoring is one of the aspects of her career trajectory she’s particularly enjoyed. She said she has helped women think about how to balance their careers and other aspects of their life.
It Takes a Village
Both working mothers, Thames and Collier are still learning how to manage their demanding careers and raise a family.
For Thames, her husband, parents, and in-laws are part of her village of support.
“Without that support, it wouldn’t be possible for me to do the things that I want to do and move in the way that I want to move as far as my career,” Thames said.
Thames said communication is key with her husband. She said they both take time to step up when the other needs to dedicate more time for work.
“Being communicative and being on the same page is really important in maintaining that work-life harmony,” Thames said.
Thames and Collier said having open communication with your employer is also important.
Collier used the example of needing to travel often. She said sometimes family and other responsibilities play a role in what is manageable for her.
“You get asked to do something and you of course have to say yes, but no, you don’t actually have to say yes,” Collier said.
“There are ways to get around that.”
Thames said she’s learned a lot from younger employees who communicate their needs.
“I think you’ll be surprised at how people are responsive because everybody’s dealing with home things whether they have kids or not,” she said.
“I think people understand those dynamics, especially going through a pandemic.”
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