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International Women’s Day Spotlight: Jennifer Kowkabany
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To celebrate International Women’s Day, Rethreaded had the opportunity to interview some amazing women: 

Jennifer Kowkabany has been a Rethreaded supporter for many years. She is a part of our Circle of Sisters and continues to use her gifts and time to give back to the community. Jennifer is hard working, determined, and an inspiration to our entire organization. We hope you enjoy her interview as much as we do: 

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do (Job, interests/hobbies, how did you become involved with Rethreaded)? 

A: I am an attorney, a wife, and a mother to three elementary-aged children. I serve as Chairman of the Neptune Beach Police Pension Board, as Co-Chair of the Grants Decision Team of the Women’s Giving Alliance, on the Board of Trustees for The Discovery School, on the Sports Committee for the Atlantic Beach Country Club, and am a member of Rethreaded’s Circle of Sisters. I spend my free time swimming, gardening, reading and attempting minor home improvements that inevitably need professional intervention.

I had been following Rethreaded’s progress for a couple of years when both Kristin Keen and my husband were in the same Leadership Jacksonville class. To be around Kristin is to feel her passion for her mission and we quickly became supporters of Rethreaded.

Q: Have you faced any struggles while being a woman in leadership? What has been the hardest for you to overcome? 

There have been many, but the most prominent one in my mind is when I joined the Marines after high school and received a crash course in leadership. I was the first female Aviation Ordnanceman and when I checked into my squadron, they had no idea what to do with me. They didn’t even have a restroom for me. Nobody wanted me there, so they kept sending me out for special training, which in the end made me one of the most qualified people in the squadron. 

In the Marines, I was trained when to lead and when to follow. While being a woman was a glaring deficiency to my fellow Marines, in the eyes of the Marine Corps itself I was just another data point. This institutional gender-blindness allowed me to excel and get promoted quickly, much to the chagrin of others. I was put in charge of my crew when I attained the rank of sergeant and had to learn the subtle nuance involved in managing people, some of whom didn’t think a woman should be there period, let alone in charge. This experience taught me a valuable lesson. While you may have the rank, or degree, or position, it does not make you a leader. Being a leader means learning to listen. For a woman, it also means doing your homework and standing firm when faced with opposition. We are allowed less leniency for error.

What has been the most rewarding part of your life this far? What is the best part about that? 

This past year has afforded many opportunities for reflection and taking account of one’s relationships and life. I am genuinely, truly, lucky to have found my husband, a man who lets me be who I am and still likes me for it. He lifts me up and centers me at the same time. He also supports my efforts with nonprofits and agencies, where I dedicate my time.

I am also grateful for our children. They make me laugh, make me proud, and I know they’ll work to make the world a better place. 

What advice would you give women in leadership who are struggling to feel empowered in the workplace?  

Women are often told that we don’t belong where we are or where we’re trying to go. Don’t believe it for a minute. Some people can only lift themselves up by pushing others down. If you have a good idea, speak up and make sure you get credit for it. If you want a job, go for it and list out why you’re the best person for it. Know your worth. Ensure you are compensated fairly for your work or find another job where you will be. We often feel lucky to be where we are. This can sometimes prevent us from critically evaluating our true value. 

What is an inspirational quote/verse/practice that you try to live by? 

“Surround yourself with those you want to be like.” This practice helps me to focus on who I am and who I want to be. It has forced me to break out of my comfort zone many times to reach out and talk to people I look up to. My membership in groups like Rethreaded’s Circle of Sisters and the Women’s Giving Alliance ensures I am surrounded with strong, principled, and benevolent women.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from a colleague or someone you look up to professionally?

This is a tough one as I haven’t had many nuggets of advice thrown my way. I was, however, once told by a male superior that as a woman I would have to work twice as hard to get half the recognition. As appalled as I was at the time, I know there is some truth in there. Women have made great strides in the past one hundred years, but we still have a way to go with equality in the workplace. Know your worth and lift other women up when the opportunity arises. 

Thank you, Jennifer for your wisdom and grace. Rethreaded is honored to know you. Check out our other International Women’s Day Interview here: 

Leila Ansart

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