March is celebrated worldwide as Women’s History Month, honoring the achievements of women and celebrating those who have paved the way for future generations.
What is the driving force behind equipping women with the mindset they can achieve anything? For Gonzaga University alumnae Delores Alexander, Dolly Hunt and Deanna Davis, it is generational impact.
Alexander, vice president of indirect supply chain at Boeing, recalled a time when she spoke at a university on the East Coast and a young woman raised her hand and said, “I am tired of having to be told you’ll have to work twice as hard.”
“It’s not going to end in your lifetime,” Alexander said in response. “Your obligation is to see if you can drive forward, just like your mom did before you and your grandmother did before her, so by the time your grandkids are in the world, circumstances have changed.”
For Hunt and Davis, their parents played a substantial role in developing who they would become as professionals and leaders.
“My mother is a very strong woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Hunt, elected prosecutor for Pend Oreille County in Washington. “Her influence on me got me to where I’m at,”
Her parents emphasized, that as a woman, she could take care of herself, instead of feeling as though she had to rely on someone else to get her what she needed.
“I was born to parents who really believed in education and instilled in me a growth mindset,” said Davis, author and consultant.
Women were first allowed to enroll at GU in fall 1948, according to Foley Library’s university archives. This changed the dynamics and structures of higher education as we see it today. The admittance of women at the time, however, was primarily to promote the expansion of Catholic education.
Now, GU alumnae are making an impact in the classroom, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, government, the boardroom and social movements.
Alexander, who obtained her bachelor’s degree in 1987 and master’s in 2010 from GU, began her career buying and contracting for information technology (IT) services. She joined Boeing at 23 years old in October 1987 and started off as an entry-level contract negotiator.
“I did know basic things about contracting but I had to learn a lot about the technology as I went through my first couple years,” she said.
Managing a global team of about 400 people, Alexander oversees tens of billions of dollars of indirect spending, which spans hundreds of suppliers that support the internal infrastructure of Boeing’s production of aerospace parts, employee and finance services and IT.
“When I started out, it was all me,” Alexander said. “How I do things better versus how I now get others to do that. My work at Boeing is about organizational strategies and how that fits into the corporation.”
When she graduated, GU left her thinking about service leadership and the idea of leaving things and people better than when you first arrived.
“I own [my identities] better now than I have ever before,” Alexander said. “I was a female, young and mixed-raced. I took my mom’s advice and I always made sure my execution and delivery were remarkable, so there couldn’t be any other excuse. You couldn’t use my gender, age and race against me.”
Hunt, who is on the second year of her second term as county attorney, is one of four elected female county prosecutors in Washington. After graduating from GU in 1999, Hunt followed her interest in criminal justice and attended Santa Clara University’s School of Law. Though she appreciated the Bay Area, she knew she was going to return to where it all started and take a job in her rural county of Pend Oreille.
“I am proud of taking care of the community that took care of me,” Hunt said.
During her career, Hunt has experienced subtle acts of bias, which she turns into opportunities to educate others and answer questions.
“There have been many times I’ve walked into the courtroom and people don’t assume I’m the elected official,” she said. “I see them do a double take when I tell them who I am.”
She doesn’t let that stop her from doing the work she cares about.
“I see my main role as public service. I feel like I contribute to the sense of holding people accountable who have injured our community,” Hunt said. “At the same time, you are trying to affect public safety.”
Hunt said GU impacted her through the lasting friendships and the support group her different work studies provided over the years.
Davis, who received her doctorate in leadership from GU in 2003, has done a little bit of everything. She is CEO, or, in her words, a “creative energy optimizer” of her company, Applied Insight, an author, leadership coach and strategic consultant.
With 20 years of leadership in the nonprofit sector and a focus on behavioral health equity and social justice, Davis builds off her previous work and studies by assisting others in personal and professional development, leadership and positive psychology.
GU’s focus on self and community aligned with what Davis wanted to do in the world. She said there was a lot of flexibility for her to study what she wished.
“For me, leadership has always been about how we can impact the world in positive ways,” Davis said. “Women are different leaders than men and we need these incredible skills that women bring. I want to see more women stepping into that unique opportunity.”
The phrase, “women helping women” is what these alumnae have strived to live by and their advice to other young women at GU is a reflection of their own experiences.
“I would encourage young women at GU to not isolate themselves. We tend to migrate to what’s comfortable and migrate to people who look like us,” Hunt said. “In college, get to know other cultures and participate in activities that you may not have thought about.”
Alexander and Davis offered wisdom centered around strength and resolve.
“Continuing to push back,” Alexander said. “Continuing to question. Continuing to call people on bad behavior.”
“Learn how to fail safe. Learn how to recover from setbacks,” Davis said. “Things are not failures, but they are learning opportunities.”