Diamonds, Oil, Oh My! In Conversation with Alumnae in Business

In a panel held in Persson Hall on Saturday, March 5, alumnae Kimberly Elek, Linda Buckley and Katie Redford offered their experiences as businesswomen, particularly in terms of sustainable responsibility. Their conversation, held in commemoration of 50 years of coeducation at Colgate, provides remarkable insight into their personal success, and the importance of accountability among corporations, both large and small. 

Their conversation was facilitated by Elek, who currently works as a communications strategist within her own firm. Following her 1987 graduation from Colgate with a degree in philosophy, Elek’s career has been characterized by television and media relations. Elek remarked on the value of her Colgate education in these experiences; her coursework in philosophy encouraged her to explore the unique thought processes in and outside of herself. 

“As a philosophy major, my professors taught me not only how to think about issues, but how to anticipate the perspectives of others around me,” said Elek. “Once you’re able to do that, communications is just second nature to you.” 

Buckley, a member of Elek’s graduating class, was also featured as a speaker. Buckley concentrated her studies around the field of economics, and went on to manage public and media relations across influential roles at Tiffany & Co. Partial to the historical and literary aspects of her field, Buckley engaged in holistic studies across Colgate’s disciplines, which made her ever-curious to explore careers in public relations. 

“As I found stories that could be told, but didn’t have an avenue or weren’t being told properly, the curiosity of how to present them was really what Colgate prepared me for,” Buckley said.

Another panelist, Redford, graduated from Colgate in 1990 with a degree in English. Her studies, focused on literary analysis and discussion, propelled her into her graduate studies in human rights and international law at the University of Virginia. She went on to become a human rights and environmental practices attorney. Her work has dealt largely with charges against oil companies for crimes against humanity, among a great variety of other humanitarian cases. Redford also spoke about how she directs the Equation Campaign, a 10 year plan to preserve fossil fuels in sensitivity to the current and impending climate crisis. Considering each of her endeavors, Redford offered to the audience that one’s political engagement is a responsibility that may satisfy the individual within our wider societal systems.

“What we can do as individuals is engage politically,” Redford said. “We need to have real transformation, and pressure our leaders to put our money where their mouth is.”

Further, Redford discussed how one may discern a company’s environmental intentions and practices. She suggested that one must carefully consider the language of a company’s promises and seek reports that track accountability and their environmental impacts over time. Redford’s work is pertinent to determining the consequent veracity of these promises and protecting those harmed by corporate inequities. 

“At the end of the day, corporations’ legal responsibility is a financial responsibility to their shareholders,” Redford said. “That often goes in direct contradiction to human rights law and sustainability. If a corporation says they’re committed to human rights and then profits from torture and slavery, I’m going to haul them into court.”

In Buckley’s experience working with fine resources obtained from mining practices, she remarked as to the progressive attitudes of management at Tiffany & Co. In Buckley’s account, the consumer’s trust in the jeweler is a modern characteristic of Tiffany & Co.’s business, and consumers are willing to pay a premium to receive responsibly sourced jewelry. In considering the detriments that could harm national parks and reserves, Tiffany & Co. have reevaluated their business practices, pricing and resourcing to deliver a more sustainable product to the consumer. Buckley spoke to how it’s important for corporate employees to speak up about the environment, for the future’s sake. 

“We took a huge amount of design inspiration from mother nature — we used to always say that mother nature was the best designer,” Buckley said. “So, we started focusing our charitable giving program into environmental efforts, to build a practice that was integral to all of these pieces we were developing.”

Elek remarked on the importance of these efforts within one’s community, reflecting on her time in the village of Hamilton. She spoke of her respect for the establishment FoJo Beans, a café on Utica Street that sources their coffee both locally and ethically. At all scales of business, intent is important, Elek contended. Elek’s daughter, Liz Alexander, was present to hear her mother speak. Alexander, a first-year focusing on art and film at Colgate, said she looks to her mother as a friend and role model. 

“[Elek] was always hungry and curious,” Alexander said. “Because the field of communication is across disciplines, it made my connection to her that much stronger. It instilled within me a curiosity for learning people’s stories.”

From these businesswomen across law, business and communications fields, we have something to learn about corporate responsibility. In their work, Elek, Buckley and Redford strive for a more comfortable future for the next generations.