Jennifer Raab, Spring 2024 Hauser Leader, talks to us about the evolving landscape of leadership, shares insights on navigating difficult decisions and challenges related to gender biases, and discusses strategies for staying agile throughout your career.   


In 2024, Raab assumed the role of president and CEO of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, following her twenty-two-year tenure as president of Hunter College. Under her leadership, Hunter College flourished into a model for public higher education, marked by significant expansions in research facilities, philanthropic support, academic initiatives, and community health programs, earning her numerous awards and accolades for her distinguished service to society and humanity.  


How would you describe your leadership style? In what ways do you believe your leadership style and approach have contributed to the success of the organizations you have been a part of? 


When others describe my leadership style, and when I describe my leadership style, one commonality is tenacity. I am tenacious in my approach to leadership. Leadership is about believing in what you’re doing and bringing people along with you to believe and forge ahead with your organization’s mission.  If you really understand the importance of your mission, and you really live it, you will bring people along with you.  


When I was president of Hunter College, I truly identified with what we were doing. A complete commitment as a leader gets people to come with you. 


How have you navigated difficult decisions or conflicts within your leadership role, and what principles guide your decision-making process?  


Ask questions. Listen deeply. Take responsibility. 


In my experience, you need to ask questions, you need to listen, you need to test ideas, and then, at the end of the day, you need to be willing to take responsibility for a decision.  


I’ve found that when there’s conflict or multiple ways to look at something, often what people want most is for someone to just make the decision and take responsibility for it. You have to be able to explain why you want to do it, support why you want to do it, see it through, and admit if it’s wrong.  


When people have confidence in you as a leader, when they feel that you value the institution and that you share a vision with them, then they often respect your decisions. They understand that your decision is not about you, it’s about the institution. 


What strategies have you used to navigate and overcome barriers and biases related to gender in your career?  


Don’t pretend that there’s not gender discrimination when you walk into a room. You need to be conscious of it, and you need to make sure you’re moving forward notwithstanding it. I think it was easier for me than for women before me, and I think it’s easier in the current generation than it was for me, but I don’t think it’s over.  


Be strong enough to be who you are. I can wear something feminine and still be strong and smart. I love shoes. I love clothes. I was never going to run away from this part of me which makes me genuine as a person and as a leader. I am also conscious of how people can stereotype you quickly because of this. It’s about being conscious and not letting who you are hold you back. Don’t be afraid to be who you are.  


What advice would you give to someone looking to make a career change or pivot into a new industry? How have you navigated those transitions? 


I made jumps in my career because I was so passionate. I would encourage others to understand their passions and skills and then to be bold enough to bring it into another arena. Once you’re there, you can learn by listening to others who are more experienced. If you have the passion, the confidence, the vision, and the tenacity to make the pivot, even against the naysayers, that’s the recipe for success. 


Ask yourself, "What’s important to me?” Be confident that you can make a difference, and don’t be afraid to leap into something where you are making change by leading and sometimes creating your own organization or putting yourself forward to lead an organization. Don’t look at that resume as a box that you’re in. The next thing on your resume could be something that people look at in 20 years from now and ask, how’d that happen? 


At the end of the day, don’t discount learning a little bit about different avenues and sectors. A lot of the lines are blurred -- people go into and switch in between government, nonprofit, and the private sector. Try not to be so rigid about where you land. You can always reinvent yourself. 


What advice would you give to others aspiring to leadership roles in higher education, nonprofits, or other fields? 


Be bold and identify where you can make a difference. It’s not always obvious.  


I had the confidence to say, I can make a difference, and I will work hard enough to make that change. You have to advocate for yourself about why you can add value and why you can take the institution to the next level. If you can see a place where you can add value, go for it.  That’s what I want to leave with people. 


What’s the vision guiding you right now? What excites you about your current leadership position? 


The New York Stem Cell Foundation is at the point where an institution that started with one person’s vision needs to find its second chapter, and that’s the leadership I like to do. I love coming into a place that needs a refresh or revitalization and developing a strategic vision. I’m excited to lead the organization into its next phase.