By Sara Knuth, News and Marketing Writer/Editor, Regis University
When Cody Teets became interim president of Regis University in January, she made history as the first woman to lead the institution. Teets, a former McDonald’s executive and current Regis trustee, also became the first lay person to lead Regis in its 145 years.
The change was historic — and, for Regis, it continued a recent shift toward higher levels of female leadership.
Most of the University’s top administrators are women: in addition to Teets, cabinet members include Chief of Staff Terri Campbell; Vice President of Student Affairs Barbara Wilcots; Interim Vice President of Advancement Abby Palsic; Associate Vice President of Human Resources Elizabeth Whitmore; and Chief Legal Officer Janelle Ramsel. Leading academics are Provost Karen Riley; Dean Shari Plantz-Masters of the Anderson College of Business and Computing; Dean Linda Osterlund of the Rueckert-Hartman College for Health Professions; Interim Academic Dean Heidi Barker of Regis College; and Dean Catherine Witt of the Loretto Heights School of Nursing. For each of these women, getting to this point in their academic careers has been years in the making.
When Shari Plantz-Masters interviewed for her first affiliate faculty position at Regis 25 years ago, all of the members of her interview committee — and all of the administrators on campus — were men. For Plantz-Masters, who has spent her career in technology, there was nothing unusual about this: she was used to being the only woman in the room. “It was more unusual to see opportunities for women to move into leadership positions,” she said.
Heidi Barker, who also served in an interim dean capacity five years ago, said that at that time, she and Plantz-Masters were the only female members of the Regis deans’ council. “It was very apparent that our voices were not as loud,” she said.
But, gradually, more women stepped into leadership positions.
“Things felt more welcoming — it didn’t seem so difficult to figure out how I could have a voice at different tables — as there were more women,” Plantz-Masters said. “I could ask questions like, ‘Why do we do it this way?’ and have women explain to me why we did it that way and not feel defensive … it felt like a much more open environment.”
Barker said, “When I first came here, and I had small children, I remember that was very unusual. At the time, I could tell you who else had small children and now, I think people, men and women equally, talk about their families in a different way than they did eighteen years ago.”
Provost Karen Riley, who started in her role at Regis in May 2021, has experienced similar changes during her career. When she began working in education, most of her peers were women. As she worked toward becoming a dean and eventually provost, she noticed that fewer women occupied leadership positions.
At Regis, she said, “I was fortunate to walk into a group of leaders who were women but, more important, were just really strong leaders.”
When Teets first joined the Regis Board of Trustees in 2013, it was, she said, “glaringly obvious that we did not have enough women on the Board, nor enough diversity.”
So, after her first cabinet meeting as interim president this year, she was thrilled by the number of women who now serve on the University’s executive leadership team. She said, “I’m a big believer that you need a lot of voices to help make a good decision and that includes, of course, women’s voices.”
As the first Catholic lay person to lead the University, Teets believes she is in a unique position to share the importance of Jesuit values. The University’s mission has the opportunity to impact people of all faiths and backgrounds, which starts at the presidential level. “This mission is really important, and it’s important to a large number people,” she said. “I just feel like folks are paying attention now in that they may be hearing it a little differently than they were before.”
Leadership for All
Although progress has been made for women at Regis, campus leaders recognize the need for growth in diversity. They suggest changes in several areas such as board governance and leadership in the sciences, business and technology, to name a few. Moreover, there is a need to develop all leaders, regardless of gender.
“There are areas for which we really need to think about women and there are areas for which we really need to think about men,” Riley said.
Barker added, “We have to get to a place where we’re lifting everybody up … we need to have the boys and men in our lives understand their role, as well as understand our own role in doing that.”
Advice for the Next Generation
As these Regis administrators reflected on their roles in shaping the next generation of leaders, they offered the following advice:
Teets: “It took me way too long in life to hear this, but I think a lot of women tend to be perfectionists. That makes us our own worst enemy, so somebody gave me this advice: ‘You do not need to be perfect. You need to do what is perfect for you.’ That just changed my whole perception of perfectionism and how I showed up and how I delivered my work. People appreciate people who are real. Just show up as how you are perfect and not somebody else’s version of perfect. Your confidence level will rise immensely.”
Plantz-Masters: “Something that I tell people all the time is to look for their mentors (their role models or their peers) because you don’t always have a formal mentor, somebody who’s going to formally help you navigate through your career. Often, it’s going to be people around you who may help you in a particular situation.
“The second thing is that often, opportunities come to you that you weren’t seeking. Be open to them. Those were usually the pathways I took in my life that opened up doors that I would have never planned [to open].”
Barker: “Say yes to opportunities that come along. Most of the opportunities I’ve had that have made me think, solve problems, and be challenged in really good ways have been things that I haven’t expected to be placed in front of me.”
Riley: “Find joy in what you do and continue to live your passion … I like solving problems and working with people. I like engaging and trying to create more opportunities for other people. If you stick with the things that you love, I think you’ll find success.”
Above: All photos courtesy of Regis University.