Meet USF's Director of Women in Leadership & Philanthropy
As director of Women in Leadership & Philanthropy at the University of San Francisco and associate vice president of Alumni and Donor Engagement, Leslie Wetzel is charged with creating and leading strategy to catalyze, sustain, and accelerate engagement among the university's alumni, donors, and friends. She shares her leadership journey here and gives advice to women and men on how we can shatter the glass ceiling.
What drew you to develop your career in the nonprofit sector?
After graduating from business school and with a banking background, I went into microfinance thinking, “How can I use my experience and skills to help women and families?” I ultimately decided to work in finance for a nonprofit whose mission was to provide individuals from poor communities access to high-quality, affordable financial services and business training. The direction my career took into fundraising happened by following my passion for serving others and saying “yes” to different opportunities. While I was working in project finance, I wrote a successful proposal to raise investment money for one project, and soon after I wrote a second successful proposal for a different project. My organization recognized that I was skilled in fundraising and I’ve been in this field ever since.
Regarding women in the workplace, have you seen attitude or culture changes since you started your career?
I have been working for about 25 years, yet I don’t think the attitudes toward women have changed very much. What’s changed is the awareness of issues around pay inequity and the glass ceiling. Even in nonprofits, there’s still a lot of decision making done at the highest levels by predominantly male leaders. I think women still have to work harder for the same opportunities and, in some cases, for fewer opportunities. For equity to happen, women have to continue to build that awareness: speak out against discrimination and abuse, take on more leadership roles, and support other women.
How have your life experiences shaped you into the leader you are today?
In terms of how to support and develop others, leading is a similar to parenting. You have to have someone else’s best interest in mind, and you want to see them grow and succeed. At the same time, you have to give them guidance and parameters about how systems and people work and operate. I tell my kids, “I’m drawing this circle really wide, but you need to stay in the circle.” Meaning, I’ll give you all the tools you need, but you make the shots and I’m trusting that you’ll make good choices.
In terms of becoming a leader in your field, it’s about being open to different experiences. Within USF, part of my path was putting myself forward for opportunities to grow. Even if you don’t get the promotion or position you applied for, you become viewed as someone with ambition. If you’re a valued employee, they know you want to progress. Good leadership will pave those opportunities for you. It’s a position of power.
As a female in a leadership role, have you experienced the 'glass ceiling' in professional environments?
Yes, the glass ceiling is absolutely real. Women have to put themselves forward, work harder, and be more prepared than their male counterparts. At the same time, women also need to be able to recognize when it's time to move on. For me, at a former job, we had a male CEO who loved to surround himself with other men. I had a good relationship with him, but I saw the writing on the wall. If you know things aren’t going to change at your organization, move on.
What would you say to males in the professional workplace about empowering their female colleagues?
One thing is not make assumptions about women’s ambition or family life. Sometimes men assume women are going to have kids or they think more about what a woman’s commitments might be outside of work. They don’t naturally assume that of other males. Males in management need to check themselves and make sure that they’re giving opportunities equally across the board, distribute projects fairly, and provide women with professional development opportunities.