Inspirational stories of empowerment and shared laughter and wisdom marked the Keck Medicine Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) Speakers Forum, “Leadership Luminaries,” held Sept. 11 at Keck Medical Center of USC.

The event, attended by some 100 Keck Medicine employees, featured three Trojan female leaders: Suzanne Nora Johnson, JD, chair of the USC Board of Trustees and former vice chair of the Goldman Sachs Group; Amy Ross, PhD, a cancer diagnostic scientist and a member of the USC Board of Trustees; and Wanda Austin, PhD, USC Life Trustee and former interim president of USC from 2018-2019.

During the discussion, which was hosted and moderated by Keck Medicine’s chief strategy officer Shawn Sheffield, MHSA, MBA, the speakers discussed a wide range of topics, including cultivating professional relationships, how the rise of artificial intelligence is changing leadership and decision-making strategies.

The women also addressed challenges they faced working in male-dominated fields. Ross shared how early in her career, sexual harassment resulted in her being unfairly fired, while Johnson recounted how a male boss once held it against her when she didn’t respond to his calls on her mother’s deathbed.

Austin, recognized for her leadership in aeronautics and systems engineering, struck a chord with the audience by relating how once, at an early-morning briefing at the Pentagon where she was a featured speaker, a top-ranked military professional asked her, “So where’d you put the coffee?”  She added, “It never occurred to him I could have been in that room for anything else than to serve coffee.”

The women discussed how to meet setbacks with aplomb, or in Johnson’s words, with a “rhinoceros hide.” Austin advised the crowd, “When someone has a problem, there is no reason for you to pick that rock up and put it in your backpack and carry it with you for the rest of your life. Keep focusing on what you do and do it to the best of your ability.”

When asked what advice she would give her younger self, Ross replied, “Stand up for what is right. Know when you’re right. Don’t quit.”

The evening was not only a chance for employees to hear from three inspirational women but to talk face-to-face with colleagues from across the health system, escaping the confines of the Zoom screen.

“Leadership Luminaries,” was the second of two WIN speakers forums. This past March, the group held a symposium on women’s health to celebrate International Women’s Day.

A video featuring highlights from the “Leadership Luminaries” Speaker Forum is available here.

Learn more about WIN here (Keck Medicine sign on required).