Women’s History Month: Stories of Inspiration

In recognition of Women’s History Month, we asked some of WittKieffer’s employees to submit stories about women who have inspired them. As it turns out, those who contributed stories were largely inspired not by bosses or mentors but by someone even closer to them – their mothers or colleagues. Enjoy the vignettes below from five of our team members on how they were influenced by great women.

From Suzanne Teer, Deputy Managing Partner, Education

A woman who inspires me is my mother, Ellen. She was one of the first women in the field of pharmaceutical sales in the early 1970s. When she was hired, her boss told her, “I only hired you because I had to” since he was required to diversify his sales staff. She went on to become one of the top performers in her company over the course of her sales career. I saw firsthand what you could achieve with a strong work ethic, commitment and passion for your work. I inherited my best qualities as a professional from my mother. And, thanks to her example, I never doubted for a single minute that I could accomplish whatever I set out to do. Today she is one of my biggest supporters, always cheering on my professional successes. 

From Maura Suilebhan, Executive Search Coordinator, Healthcare

Beth Carlson lost her first husband when she was 27 years old and had a 22-month-old daughter, me.

Growing up, my vision of what a woman can do in the world was based on what I watched my mother achieve. She returned to school to obtain her MFA as a single mother and went on to establish herself as a notable member of her community as both an arts educator and an artist in her own right.

I am inspired by my mother more with each passing year and with each new experience I have in my professional life. Her commitment to pursuing a path that was meaningful to her, at a time when her identity was in such a vulnerable place, strikes me now in ways it didn’t when I was younger. Back then, she was just my mother, and she was just in charge of a lot of projects. Whether she was on the campus at the University as a TA in the drama department, on stage in a play, or directing one at the high school in my hometown, my mother was always a powerful presence. People in the community respected her, and I quietly (well, maybe not always quietly) accepted my role as the kid who hung around backstage at rehearsals.

Now, as an adult, my own commitment to pursuing a path in life that is meaningful to me comes into greater focus when I think back on my mother as a role model. Never have I questioned my right as a woman to work for the kind of education I wanted – some of that time as a new mother – nor have I stopped myself from reaching for a goal that I wanted just because it was going to be hard to achieve.

There are numerous other women that I have been fortunate enough to be inspired by throughout the course of my life, but my mother remains the one who provided me the lens through which to see them.

From Kimberly Smith, Managing Partner and Practice Leader, Academic Medicine and Health Sciences

My reflection on who inspired me left me wanting, frankly. All of my professors and advisers were men, both in college and graduate school. Once I was in the work world, similarly, my bosses were all men, and largely so were my co-workers. As my career progressed, little of that changed for me. CEO after CEO was male, my board chairs were all male and so it has pretty much gone with only a handful of exceptions.

So that made me think a little more and it dawned on me, that it was really my mom. Growing up I would not have described her as inspirational. She grew up poor, with a single mom who’d been deserted when she was five. She went to work very young to help support her mom, and largely never stopped. She didn’t lead a glamorous professional life. After I was born, she worked part time so she could be home in the afternoons when I got home from school. But I realize now, that she did work – unlike most of the women in our neighborhood. It never struck me as unusual at the time, but I appreciate now that it was.

And after her boss retired and closed the business, in her mid-50s, she went to work for a mortgage company and used a computer for the first time in her life. Through tears, frustration, and a training program where everyone was practically half her age, she persevered. And when my dad retired, she kept working for the benefits and retirement she’d never qualified for. And when he died very suddenly, she persevered. She lived alone for the next 23 years, and she continued to persevere. She drove her car until she was 89, and was fiercely independent to the end. She was not of the ilk where independence as a woman was a conscious pursuit for her or a cause, she just persevered through it. 

I think that’s the inspiration for me. She never tried to make a statement, never looked for the limelight or attention, my mom just lived life, always under difficult circumstances. Others may have been shattered by her life experiences, but she just got through it. 

From Stefania Cosentino, Corporate Accountant

My mother, Theresa Cosentino, has helped me become the dedicated and strong woman I am today. Born in Calabria, Italy, she migrated to the United States with my grandparents via a ship at the age of three. After getting settled in the Chicago area, my mom had to learn to speak English and adapt to the American culture. It was not easy attending school since none of the students spoke Italian, but with time and effort, she started to learn the English language. She is also an avid reader and that helped her become more comfortable in speaking. Often she served as a translator to my grandparents as they worked countless hours to support their family and did not have the opportunity to attend school to learn English. With my mom’s resilience, she became a first generation family member to graduate from college and had a career in banking. My mom’s passion for higher education inspired me to earn my degrees! With all of the adversity that she faced, I try to put myself in my mom’s shoes and think how she would handle certain challenges. I always learned to “never give up” and always have faith in our religious upbringing and value the importance of our family.

From Dena Cicero, Contracts Manager

When asked to share about someone who inspired me personally or professionally a single name came to mind for both. Allow me to tell you about my friend Denise.

When I started work at a new company some 18 years ago hers was the first face I saw on my first day. Never has anyone felt as welcomed as I did that day. Over the next 14 years working side by side with Denise and having that co-worker relationship blossom into a true friendship I learned that she was a force for good in this world. I would love to share a few of the things I learned from Denise.

  1. There is no reason not to smile. No matter what was happening personally or professionally. No matter how stressful a situation was. No matter what she was up against. The smile never faded and everyone around her was calmed. She taught me to just smile and to laugh because, whatever the situation, it was all going to be ok.
  2. Family is number one! Denise was a few years ahead of me in marriage and in raising her children. I watched her always put them first. If the phone rang and it was one of them the call was answered. Everything else could wait. They came first. Even after decades of marriage I watched her gush about her husband who she called her “best boyfriend.” I watched her love her children fiercely. Watching her made myself and others better partners and parents.
  3. Take the trip! Drink the wine! Buy the shoes! Denise loved life! She never missed a chance to travel, to celebrate or to indulge herself and others in things that brought joy. She taught me to not let opportunities to make memories pass me by.

All of these things and so many more that I learned from Denise hold even more meaning today. Sadly we tragically lost Denise on February 12, 2022. Her loss is felt so deeply. Yet, even with her gone, she taught us one final lesson. Don’t wait! Check on that friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Invite that group of friends out to dinner. Go enjoy that happy hour. Live this life to the absolute fullest. That is what Denise did and the example she left for us all.

We hope you have enjoyed these tales of strong and inspirational women in the lives of some of our employees.