The proverbial glass ceiling continues to crack, and on Dec. 8, it made a sound heard statewide.

Over 650 guests gathered at the Holiday Inn By The Bay to support former Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe and her Women’s Leadership Institute at its second annual leadership luncheon.

“This is our biggest event of the year,” said Christina McAnuff, the institute’s executive director. “It’s both a friend-raiser and a fundraiser. It gives us the chance to thank our donors and friends, but also provides an opportunity to hear firsthand from the students the difference this opportunity is making to them.”

The institute, which launched in 2015, was inspired by Snowe’s personal story, her extraordinary career and her belief that Maine girls can aspire to be whatever they want to be.

“You don’t have to be an orphan to have a crisis of confidence,” Snowe said, speaking to a rapt audience during the luncheon. She attended with her husband, former Maine Gov. John McKernan. “Girls are three to four times more likely to lose their self-esteem by the time they reach high school. We are determined to reverse those statistics. When women help other women, we can enhance the opportunity for all those that follow us.”

Greg Powell, chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation, also took the stage to announce a $1.4 million matching grant to support the institute’s initiatives.

“The support is overwhelming,” said Sharon Miller, chair of the institute’s board of directors, during a private reception preceding the luncheon. “We’re trying to raise the aspirations, confidence and leadership skills of girls in 10th, 11th and 12th grades across the state. This year we’ve expanded to one high school in every county; next year it will be two.”

Catherine Lamson, a senior vice president at MEMIC and an adviser to girls (known as Olympia’s Leaders) from Lewiston High School, is an avid supporter.

“It’s a way to give back to young women. We are helping to give them the tools to develop their values, their voice and their vision,” she said.

“We have an awareness in this state about what it takes to grow leaders, and Maine values are unique,” said Karen Gordon Mills, senior fellow at the Harvard Business School, former cabinet member in the Obama administration and keynote speaker. “Olympia Snowe has embodied them and codified them into a curriculum and is passing it on in a powerful way.”

“Everywhere I travel, women leaders, school administrators and mothers of our participants are quick to say, ‘I wish this had been around when I was in high school. It would have made such a difference in my self-confidence,’ ” said McAnuff. “The recognition of what Olympia has created resonates with so many of us. We all want to be part of it and lift up the next generation of Maine women leaders.”

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

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