Maven Mavericks: Vanessa Green Sinders

Ushering in an Era of Collaborative Leadership with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce

“From a young age, I had a perspective that being involved in your community and making a difference and contributing was important,” Vanessa Green Sinders shared with me as we sat in the large, stoic conference room of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

As a young girl, Sinders knew she wanted to leave her mark on the world by positively impacting her community. While in grade school, she wrote a research report on Pat Schroeder, one of the first women in Congress, a pioneer for women’s and family rights, and a feminist icon.

Through her government leadership, Representative Schroeder helped open up military jobs—including flying combat missions–to women and created more access to early screening for breast and cervical cancer for lower-income women. One of Schroeder’s most significant victories was the enactment of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, which allowed millions of women and men to care for family members without losing their jobs.

As a young woman, Sinders remembers thinking Schroeder’s story was “really cool” and was impacted by how the congresswoman made a difference in her community.

Vanessa Green Sinders with her mother
Vanessa Green Sinders with her mother.

Sinders’ parents also influenced her from a young age to maintain a hard work ethic and contribute to her community. “My mom was on the school committee for our local school district and was chair of the school committee,” Sinders shared. Her father was also a builder and chaired the school renovation committees.

As Sinders grew older and attended Dartmouth, she was exposed to new opportunities and a wide variety of careers.

Sinders recalled another strong female influence in her college days—Karen Francis, a Dartmouth College trustee who had also been a member of the same sorority. “Karen was a business leader doing marketing for lots of different companies and was really successful in the professional sense. Seeing that in college gave me another role model,” she said.

Vanessa Green Sinders with Karen Francis
Karen Francis with Vanessa Green Sinders after she won an award from Dartmouth in Francis’ name.

“Dartmouth was such an important experience for me in gaining confidence and being exposed to lots of different things and career paths.” Sinders’ first job before D.C. was as a financial analyst in Chicago. It was there she realized she wanted to get involved in politics and policy.

On early career choices, she said, “Your first job is not your last job. So don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Continuing to build on her career, Sinders lived by the mantra “Be where it matters” and kept a keen eye on where she felt she needed to be to make a difference.

“Your first job is not your last job. So don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Vanessa Green Sinders and Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts
Vanessa Green Sinders and Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
Blazing Trails and Developing Her Leadership Style

Sinders went on to work in government jobs, and her first role was working for former Senator Judd Gregg from New Hampshire. There, she was hired by Gregg’s D.C. chief of staff, a woman who opened many doors for her. Sinders worked in many different roles for Senator Gregg on his committee staff and then in his personal office, where she helped run his office in D.C. When Gregg announced he was retiring, Senator Scott Brown from Massachusetts was recently elected and, hailing from Massachusetts herself, Sinders looked to transition to a role on his team.

Sinders began working for Brown as his legislative director but then earned the chief of staff role, establishing herself as one of the youngest chiefs of staff in the Senate.

“I can go through every job of mine since then and identify a woman who was my boss or who was a mentor that helped me get to the next level,” she shared.

In her chief of staff role, Sinders took the approach of being friendly, open, and listening. She met with any other chief of staff she could, asking for their advice and encouraging collaborative relationships.

“I took the tactic of ‘No one knows everything,’ and I certainly didn’t know everything, so I took it upon myself to meet as many Senate chiefs of staff from both sides of the aisle, asking ‘What words of wisdom do you have?’ and, “How can we work together?’”

She said, “Admitting that you don’t know everything—people respond well to that.”

She’s taken that approach to her new role as President and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, replacing Kevin Brinegar—who worked with the Chamber for 31 years and held the position for 22 years before her—to become the first woman to take on the highest leadership position in the organization.

Vanessa Green Sinders and Sam Schlosser
Vanessa Green Sinders with Sam Schlosser, Plymouth Foundry’s president, who marks the third generation of his family to lead the company.

As she transitioned into the new role, Sinders wanted to meet as many people as possible, both on her team—being respectful of all her team’s experience and expertise—and with Indiana Chamber members from all 92 counties across the state.

Through this process, she emphasized knowing what questions to ask, putting all the pieces together, being willing to make decisions, and empowering and pushing her team to lead themselves.

“A really important thing about being a leader is prioritizing your time and figuring out where you need to be. Spending time getting to know our members, hearing from stakeholders, figuring out strategy, I wanted to lean in on that and be there to provide emphasis and support to our advocacy efforts.”

When asked about advice for mavens stepping into roles as new leaders, Sinders shared, “Don’t feel guilty about it. Own it. You don’t have to do it all, and you don’t have to do it like anybody else.”

Sinders’ Words of Wisdom to Drive More Opportunity

“I’m a big believer in the power of relationships and networking and paying it forward. No matter how senior you are, you can always take time to help someone else.”

Sinders recalled a specific interaction after a speaking engagement when a young woman approached her and asked her for coffee and advice. “I will do that because people did it for me, and I will do it for the next generation.”

While she doesn’t participate in formal mentorship programs, she does it informally every day and loves that it’s part of her job.

Vanessa Green Sinders
Vanessa Green Sinders, President and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce

From a young age, Sinders watched her parents work hard. She attributes much of her success to the attitude, “I’m gonna work really hard. Ask for more. Do what needs to be done, and do it with a smile on my face and with a positive attitude.”

Sinders claims the more significant challenge for her has been creating balance as she went from being a professional that could work all the time because she didn’t have kids to now having two boys and a husband that she adores and being true to what she wants in both her personal and professional life.

“I think women carry a lot of those burdens outside of their professional life. It was when we moved to Indiana, and I was offered this amazing opportunity to lead the organization—I had a moment where I had literally told my kids we were moving from D.C. to Indiana and promised, ‘Mom is going to take you to school every day.’”

Taking on the opportunity with the Indiana Chamber meant that she might impinge on promises she made to her family, but as she took the role, she thought, “This is a great opportunity for me and my family to make a difference in the state. I’m going to do it my way.”

Sinders pointed out that while she hasn’t been able to keep that promise of taking her kids to school every day, she’s been able to prioritize her family time in the way that makes the most sense for her in her new life.

“Work is really important but so is the rest of your life and having perspective of how it all fits together. I think that in professional settings, especially when you’re a leader, your job can overtake you. Figuring out how you can set your own boundaries is important,” she affirmed.

“Don’t Count Yourself Out of Going for Something”

Another poignant piece of advice Sinders shared focused on being open to opportunities you hadn’t considered. While she had many relationships throughout her career that helped her along, she pointed out that she never had a formal mentor or a five-year plan. She attributed much of her success in her career development to having an attitude of entertaining any opportunity that came her way.

“Don’t count yourself out of going for something. Explore it and see if it works out. I think women in particular sometimes try to negotiate against themselves or talk themselves out of things,” she said.

When she was recruited to interview for the Chamber role by a search firm, that type of role wasn’t on her radar. “I feel like I tell this to people all the time: Don’t say ‘no’ to something you haven’t been offered. Say ‘yes.’ Go through the interview process and see if it makes sense. I went through the process and was myself, and the rest is the rest.”

Plans for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce

As the first female leader in her position, I asked Sinders what she thought she’d uniquely be able to bring to the table. She proudly declared they are hosting their first-ever Indiana Women’s Summit in August of 2024 and are partnering with Indiana Sports Corp.

“We came together around this idea of using ‘Women in Sports’ as a theme—Sports as an economic engine for the state, and Sports and Health and Wellness as an individual engine for women,” she elaborated.

Sinders is focused on collaborative partnerships and “A big believer that we’re stronger together than apart.” She’s prioritized meetings with local and regional chambers, organizations like the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP), and other philanthropic groups that are all doing great things for our state.

Vanessa Green Sinders with Terre Haute area business leaders
Vanessa Green Sinders meeting with Terre Haute area business and civic leaders Tonya Pfaff, Brandon Sakbun, Kristin Craig, Chris Switzer, and Greg Ellis.

She constantly focuses on how the State Chamber can be a leader and convener. “We’re here to help the state move forward from an economic growth and prosperity perspective, and use our convening power to help elevate and maximize the voice of business across the state.”

Sinders is taking the Indiana Prosperity 2035 plan that was created before her arrival and doing it her way, with a collaborative partnership-based approach. And I, for one, can’t wait to watch her succeed.

Follow along with the work of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce on Instagram, X, and LinkedIn.

Tiffany Hanson is a relationship manager for Morales Group who is enthusiastic about building better futures for mavens in Indiana and beyond. You can find her on Instagram and LinkedIn.

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