The catalyst for writing this column was the snarky question, “Can Women Lead Other Women?”  The answer for me is yes.  I believe it requires women who are self-actualized, altruistic and authentic.  Leading women is different from leading men.  Just as the communication styles of each gender are diverse and their leadership development is divergent.

During my career, I’ve been fortunate to have three extraordinary leaders who mentored me and influenced my leadership philosophy.  The first was Susan K. Neely, president and CEO of the American Beverage Association. The second was Karen Forgus, senior vice president of operations for the Cincinnati Reds. The third was Jane Wildman, retired global vice president of baby care for Procter & Gamble.

You might have noticed I used past tense and wrote “mentored” me.  It’s because each of these women became a close and valued friend. In my world, friendship is way beyond mentoring. It’s a lifetime investment and 24/7 commitment.

American Beverage Association President & CEO Susan K. Neely and Catherine Huggins, Partner at Huggins Consulting Group.

When Native Iowan Susan K. Neely mentored me, I learned the value of calculated risk taking.  She taught me, “Take action and apologize later.”  Among her many ground-breaking career achievements, Susan was elected the first woman president of both the 100-year-old Washington Rotary Club and the 108-year-old University Club of Washington, D.C.

Cincinnati Reds' Senior Vice President of Operations Karen Forgus and her daughters, Rachel and Hope Forgus.

Karen Forgus is one of the highest-ranking and successful women in Major League Baseball.  She taught me that positive thinking leads to positive results.  Karen is extremely personable and her intellect hides behind a smile. I would gladly trade my professional skill sets for Karen’s unusual gift of deeply connecting with others.

Jane Wildman with her husband, John, and sons (l-r) Patrick and Jack.

A partner at The Partnering Group, Jane Wildman is an incredible business woman and individual. Jane is the retired vice president for global baby care as the Pampers Global Marketing/Brand Franchise leader. This role included leading the global marketing for P&G’s largest brand, Pampers, in over 90 countries. During her tenure, the business doubled from $4 to $8 billion.  Jane taught me how to handle difficult people.  My favorite coaching from Jane was the phrase:  “Did you really think [insert name] was going to change today?”

I owe so much to Susan, Karen and Jane. They helped shape my thinking, decision-making and leadership philosophy.  But not everyone has a trio of women as talented as these individuals. That’s why, I wanted to mention the “Iowa Women’s Leadership Conference” (IWLC) taking place in Coralville on Tuesday, April 23.  While the main event is sold-out, seats remain for the pre-conference workshops.

According to IWLC Executive Director Diane Ramsey, this event began in 2007 to address a serious opportunity gap. “Women in Iowa, at all levels in their careers and from all walks of life, needed access to more ways to learn about effective leadership, to strengthen their own leadership skills, and to network with other women seeking to become better leaders in their lives, careers, and communities,” explained Ramsey.

Two central Iowans serve on the IWLC Board of Directors, they include: Angel West – secretary shareholder, Nyemaster Goode and Hannah M. Rogers, counsel in the Legal Department at The Principal Financial Group.

This year’s IWLC main event may be sold out, but it reinforces that mentoring women and understanding how differences in gender affect leadership are year-round topics.

Mentoring and developing female leaders requires individual initiative and organizational focus.  So let’s keep these discussions alive.  In doing so, we’re helping the next generation of “Susans,” “Karens” and “Janes” make a difference in business and society as a whole.