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Women in Leadership series concludes with panel of university leaders

The five speakers at the Women in Leadership Series. (Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/UTHealth Houston)
(Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/UTHealth Houston)

Karen Spillar, JD, likened the varieties of leadership to a wide range of hair spray products — some are rigid, some firm, and others have a flexible hold.

“I think leaders need to be more like flexible-hold hair spray,” said Spillar, vice president of enterprise risk management and chief compliance officer at UTHealth Houston. “The best leaders are ones who listen and have authenticity — those things help you be more flexible, and make it easier for people to connect with you.”

Spillar joined four other distinguished UTHealth Houston leaders as part of the season’s final installment of the Women in Leadership Seminar Series.

Panelists included:

  • Claire Brunson, executive director of management services at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston
  • Lisa D. Cain, PhD, associate vice president of faculty affairs and development at UTHealth Houston, and professor and associate dean for professional development and faculty affairs at UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry
  • LaTanya J. Love, MD, executive vice president of student affairs and diversity at UTHealth Houston, and dean of education at McGovern Medical School
  • Deana Moylan, associate vice president of diversity and equal opportunity at UTHealth Houston

The discussion was moderated by Julianne Cenac, PhD, associate vice president of organizational and talent development.

Panelists discussed the winding and unlikely journey that led them to their roles. Brunson, for example, has a degree in home economics education. Moylan had intentions of becoming a child psychologist. Spillar started out in social work, and Cain, a neuroscientist, dreamed of winning the Nobel Prize in science. For all of them, their paths were molded by people and experiences.

“Your road is not a straight path,” Brunson said. “You will zig and zag in life, but there’s such joy in my life today, and I know I’m in the right place.”

The UTHealth Houston leaders advised to look for opportunities to grow, seek out new skills, connect with others, and show up daily for their teams.

“Life is too short. Do something you love with people you like, and look for opportunities,” Moylan said. “If something is challenging now, work at it, be engaged in trying to change it, and if you can’t change it, look for a new opportunity. Someday you can look back and say, ‘I had no intention of getting here, but it’s been a good journey.’” 

True leadership begins with knowing yourself, and then connecting with others authentically.

“Constantly be aware of who you are. Diminish the concept of ‘I’ and find ways to help others,” Cain said. “If you continue to be positive and help others, good things will come to you.”

Everyone battles self-doubt and impostor syndrome, panelists said.

“Impostor syndrome is a chronic condition, and we all suffer from it,” Love said. “It flares up periodically, but you have to remember that sometimes we get in our own way of looking at other opportunities or pursuing what our real passions are. When you are having these moments of questioning ‘Am I good enough?’ remember that someone brought you to this opportunity, and be confident in your own abilities and know your strengths and challenges.”

The Women in Leadership Series, now in its seventh year, is sponsored by university administration through Human Resources Organizational and Talent Development in collaboration with the Office of Faculty Affairs and Development.

The series creates an environment for employees to learn about the experiences, challenges, and achievements of women in leadership. Open to all UTHealth Houston faculty, staff, and students of any gender, participants gain leadership insights and techniques while also connecting with colleagues from across the institution.

For additional information, visit Questions can be directed to or 713-500-3169.

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