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American Campus Communities Hosts First Women in Leadership Event

March 8, 2024

Our company’s female leaders came together to build community and empower each other’s growth and success

International Women’s Day, celebrated annually March 8, is a global holiday that celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is also a time for us all to assess how we can contribute to equality and inspire inclusion.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme, “Invest in women: Accelerate progress” is especially meaningful to

Panelists field questions from General Managers at Leadership Conference

us at American Campus Communities. Investing in our team members’ professional growth has always been a big focus for our company. We are proud our ACC team represents the gender diversity of the residents and communities we serve, and we’ve been working to achieve comprehensive representation at all levels of our organization.

These focus areas intersected recently at ACC’s Leadership Conference, which brought together more than 200 of our general managers from Feb. 20-22, 2024, for professional development in San Diego. For the first time, this annual conference included a Women in Business session to discuss our female leaders’ unique experiences at work. This created a supportive atmosphere in which women could voice their successes and challenges and spark ideas for helping one another and engaging men as allies.

The standing room-only session began with dimmed lights and music followed by a quiet, moving intro from the panel moderator Tosha Bowles, ACC’s senior vice president of property operations. Tosha then posed questions to seven female panelists from ACC’s senior leadership team. The leaders were from many different departments and spanned a diversity of ages, life stages, races, sexual orientations and backgrounds.

“The fact that we had such a diverse group of strong female leaders—with so many others we could’ve included—shows that our commitment to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels is paying off,” said panelist Emily Ellis, senior regional vice president. “We all brought different perspectives shaped by our life experiences; for example, I’m a new mom at age 40.”

The panelists fielded questions such as, “How is your leadership style different from that of your male counterparts?” “How do you empower yourself and the women around you?” and “What advice would you give your younger self?” They also shared their personal mantras and trivia about themselves and answered questions from the audience. This helped our general managers see the senior leaders as people, not just titles, and helped everyone feel comfortable being vulnerable in sharing their perspectives.

The discussion raised topics of gender bias, imposter syndrome, and intersectionality of your identity. One of the most popular topics was how to balance the demands of leadership with the demands of a busy personal life, especially if that life includes children.

Standing-room only crowd ready to hear from the first ACC Women in Leadership Panel

The group talked about how inclusion means being able to come to work as your true authentic self, with all the community involvement, caretaking and complicated situations that may entail. They agreed that it’s vital for both men and women to support each other in fulfilling those roles, whether by setting clear boundaries around work hours or encouraging colleagues to nurture their mental health.

“The panel was my favorite part of this year’s Leadership Conference. The insights gained from these trailblazers not only illuminated the path forward but also reinforced the importance of diversity and inclusion in driving organizational success,” said Cassie Hughes, general manager of The Retreat near Texas State University. “As I reflect on this empowering experience, I am excited and motivated to champion diversity and foster an inclusive environment within my own sphere of influence.”

This kind of learning was the hope of ACC Vice President of University Relations Teri Bump, who conceived of the Women in Business event, and Executive Vice President of Property Operations Angela Testa, who championed its inclusion at the Leadership Conference.

“Women long to be seen and have our experiences validated, and both the panelists and audience members have told me that this event was incredibly moving and inspirational,” said Bump. “It is so important for women to work together and support each other in this way.” The panel was so well-received that it inspired the creation of a new women’s group at ACC, with a virtual chatroom for support and ideation, as well as more formal events.

“Women-focused networking events provide more opportunities to connect, and more sharing of our experiences,” said panelist Sarah Prescott, vice president of system solutions. “Learning from other’s shared experiences empowers you, and opens your eyes to other inspirational people within ACC. The synergy around this panel is exactly what ACC needs not just to enhance our culture, but to build the momentum to achieve our company goals. I am excited about the growth of ACC and the development of our future leaders.”

Panelists & Their Life Mantras

Lonnie Ledbetter, Chief Purpose & Inclusion Officer: “Have an attitude of gratitude!”
Kim Voss, Chief Financial Officer: “Embrace change because it brings your next learning and growth opportunity.” Alison Ando, Chief Legal Officer: “Every individual should be seen and heard.”
Angela Testa, Executive Vice President, Property Operations: “Work to live, don’t live to work.”
Emily Ellis, Senior Regional Vice President: “Achieve small goals every day.”
Felicia Chachere, Senior Regional Vice President: “His will, his way, my faith. The will of God will never take me to where his Grace will not protect me!”
Sara Prescott, Vice President, System Solutions: “We can do hard things.”

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