For female leaders in male-dominated businesses, every day is like settling the Wild West.
Pioneering Women 2013, an annual awards presentation and luncheon to honor female leaders in the Upstate, kicked off Women’s History Month for Spartanburg Methodist College. They presented nine awards to notable women in the fields of media, education, public service, missions, philanthropy, politics and business.
The event drew about 100 women from a variety of fields. Spartanburg Methodist President Colleen Keith said she was impressed by the caliber of women who attended and their accomplishments.
“We could probably solve a few issues here today,” Keith said. “We need a pope. How about the sequestration? We could probably take care of that.”
When Keith was hired at SMC in 2009, she was the school’s seventh president and its first female leader. As she settled into her new role, Keith said she realized there were many other female leaders in Spartanburg County and no community-wide events to honor their accomplishments.
“We found a niche we thought we could fill,” Keith said.
Award recipients are chosen by the Pioneering Women Committee, and members study local leadership and pour over resumes to find the impressive winners, said Leah Pruitt, a committee member and SMC director of alumni affairs.
“To me, they represent people who took a stand and made a difference,” she said.
Jane McQueen, founder, president and CEO of Mobile Meals, was presented the award for missions work. McQueen said when she started her program to bring food and nursing care to the elderly, about 70 percent to 75 percent of the philanthropy community was male. Now, it’s primarily composed of women.
“We have been privileged to journey into a field ahead of many women and it has opened up behind us,” she said.
Sue Schneider, general manager of Spartanburg Water, was given the business award. After listening to the accomplishments of her fellow recipients, she said she was honored to be recognized in the company of such impressive women. But she had one complaint.
“I’ll be happy when they don’t have to say ‘first’ before so many things,” she said.
Spartanburg County Clerk of Court Hope Blackley, a 2012 Pioneering Women award recipient, gave the keynote speech. She called on the attendees to continue to support one another and other ambitious women as a means of elevating the entire gender.
“I think it’s disappointing we too often fit the status quo of tearing each other down,” Blackley said. “You took a step forward by just being here to honor these women.”
Blackley congratulated all the award winners, but offered special appreciation to Judge Ponda Caldwell, who was given the award for public service. Caldwell served as the interim clerk of court before Blackley and coached her successor into her job.
“I wouldn’t be as successful as I am if it weren’t for one woman helping another woman,” she said.
By Felicia Kitzmiller