Courtney Spence on How Support Networks Help Women Professionals

In Chapter 15 of 19 in her 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, non-profit executive Courtney Spence answers "What Makes a Women's Professional Network Valuable?"  Spence notes the majority of her organization is female.  She notes the career and parenting balancing challenges being a woman presents and the importance of both giving support to and receiving support from other women while finding that balance over time.   Courtney Spence returns to Capture Your Flag for her Year 3 interview.  As Founder and Executive Director, Spence leads non-profit Students of the World to empower college students to use film, photography, and journalism to tell stories of global issues and the organizations working to address them.  Spence graduated with a BA in History from Duke University.


Erik Michielsen: What makes a women’s professional network valuable?

Courtney Spence: Interestingly enough, our staff is 98% female. We work – it’s all women and it’s not purposeful it’s just how its happened. It’s been wonderful and I think what I’ve realized is I think women – everybody has their challenges and this is not a woe is us, but women do have a lot more to balance, in a sense of, you know, this – the urge and desires to have a family and the urge and desires to have a career, and just by default that women have to carry the babies for 9 months and deal with that repercussion, there’s a lot more to I think that struggle of I want – if I wanna be a mother, I wanna be a great mother. If I’m wanna be a professional, I’ll be a great professional, and I wanna do both. How in the hell am I gonna do both?

I think that, you know, I look at my mother and she was – she’s, I’m convinced, the best mother in the world. And I wanna be just like her if I choose that path to have children but how am I gonna do that and do Students of the World which is a child, and it’s my child that I have had for 12 years. So how do I do that? How do I struggle with the emotions that come with that? I think there’s, again, as you get into your 30’s, you start to really – you have to start making decisions that will affect the rest of your life. You have to start living more consciously than you did in your 20’s, or at least I have, because you do recognize that, you know, life doesn’t go on forever and that there are certain phases to life and you have to prepare yourself for those because you don’t wanna wake up one day and be like, how did I – I never made a choice, and this is where I am. I wanna be a lot more an active participant in my life personally.

And so as I’m struggling through what does that mean and what does that look like, finding other women to be supportive and give advice and go through those trenches with me and me to do that with others is really important because I think there’s not just the need to be mentored and supported but as women, we feel the need to support and mentor others in general, and there is great satisfaction that comes from that.

And I think that for me, the women – the women’s movement – and, you know, this started, you know, when I wrote a, you know, high school paper on the importance of first ladies, and I remember I sent a copy to then first lady Hillary Clinton. And I realized that Hillary has been such a really, really incredible role model for me, you know, that I, you know particularly since 2008, have recognized the need to really bring women together and that the importance of a woman’s network and how difficult that is because, you know, unlike other groups or cohorts, women are so diverse, you know, in physical locations, in socio-economic situations, but we all have the commonality of being female, of being a woman, and how do we bring that group together more effectively is a great challenge of our time I think.