Justice Sharon L. Kennedy
Ohio Women's Bar Association 2017 Honoring Women in Government Reception
May 11, 2017

Good evening. Thank you, Amy, for the invitation to speak and for that generous introduction.

As I look back on my conversation with Amy at Milestone 229, in the context of the networking and educational sessions you have had today and will experience tomorrow, our discussion was really a resolute extension of that choice to engage in a critical conversation when the moment arises. (Perhaps for me in a rather policeman-like manner).

We have all had those moments of engaging in a Critical Conversation and acts of Courageous Leadership even if, in that moment, we didn’t realize it was happening.

The word leadership is defined in short as “action.”

It involves having a clear vision, converting that vision into a succinct message, sharing that message with others, and providing them with the “information, knowledge and methods to realize that vision” so that others willingly follow.

When combined with the word “courageous”— which means “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger [or] fear of difficulty”— courageous leadership is decisive action.

In January 2013, Forbes listed the 10 traits of courageous leaders: confront reality head-on, seek feedback and listen, say what needs to be said, encourage push-back, take action on performance issues, communicate openly and frequently, lead change, make decisions and move forward, give credit to others, hold people accountable, including yourself.

Reflecting on those traits I realized that sometime in my past, whether as a police officer, solo practitioner, or administrative judge, each of those traits came to bear on an important conversation or when tackling a tough problem. 

Courageous leadership, Forbes said, is about “having an uncomfortable conversation, communicating when you don’t have all the answers, or making a decision to move ahead on a new project.” Courageous leadership, individually, is what you will need [in order] to have those much needed “critical conversations” in the workplace. 

According to VitalSmarts, the four most difficult issues for women to discuss in the workplace are: negotiating limits, giving performance feedback, asking for a raise, and not receiving support from other women. In the view of Thomson Reuters the top five issues for women in the workplace are: work-life balance, equal pay, harassment, career opportunities, and children and career. Most of these I can say I have personally experienced at various points in my non-traditional career path through heavily male-dominated fields.

For me, of the nine issues identified, readily we can take action and begin to resolve one of those issues tonight and that is women supporting other women. It seems like a task easily accomplished, but it is the elephant in the room.

So ask yourself, have you ever failed to support another women at your workplace.  If the truthful answer is yes, then why?

Forbes’ research indicates that “[m]illennials…are more optimistic” about the future.  As [one stated], “The situation is much better today than it was 35 years ago.”

Yes, it is.  And it is so, because of those women who came before us. Those who fought for the right to own property in their own name, in 1844. Those who marched in the suffrage movement to give us a right to vote, ratified by the states August 26, 1920. Those who were entrepreneurs before their time looking only to serve the needs of their family, not inspire the next generation, such as Marie King of Marie’s Candies.

The question isn’t whether you will face a moment where the need to have a critical conversation will arise or whether a moment will arise that requires you to be that courageous leader. The real question is what will you do when it happens?

As of 2015, women represent approximately forty-seven percent of the workforce. The challenges of equality that lay ahead [and] the rise of women in industry sets the stage for all of us. In the end, it is up to you.

“In every human endeavor ... leadership can make the difference between success and failure.”

What will you do to further our collective cause?

Thank you for the opportunity to be here.  I wish you all continued success and may God bless each and every one of you.