Alumna Encourages: “There is Never Just One Path.”

3.14.2024 Alumni News, Article, MBA
Photo of people in the article

Shana Gregory (MBA ‘22), vice president of human resources and diversity officer at Allegacy Federal Credit Union, speaks with School of Business Alumni Council member Stephen Klemash (‘20), about her unique path to the MBA, how she developed her personal leadership philosophy and the best advice for making an impact, no matter your role in the organization.

Stephen: Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?

Shana: When I moved to the Winston-Salem area, I was in the process of changing industries. I stayed in the human resources discipline but moved from a government contracting background into financial services. When I made that shift, I recognized that while the main tenets of human resources remain the same, there were nuances of the business that I felt like I was missing. As I started to think about my own career progression, I wanted to better understand the industry so that I could add more value; that’s what got me started thinking about an MBA.

Stephen: What drew you to Wake Forest?

Shana: Given that I’m based in Winston-Salem, I really started exploring what programs were local, online, and hybrid including which would be the best fit for me. I quickly determined that I wanted a program that was in-person to have that sense of interaction and develop personal relationships. As I narrowed down my choices, I felt that Wake Forest, as a premier business school, was the best possible solution for me. I knew a Wake Forest MBA would expand my career.

On top of all of that, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one unique aspect that helped me to become part of the Wake Forest MBA program. When I went through the interview process, I shared openly that at the time I was a single mom; in doing so, they asked me, “are there any obstacles that might prevent you from joining the program?” At that time, I was apprehensive about how I would juggle a full-time job, MBA program and a family. Luckily, I was the fortunate recipient of a scholarship that was specifically for single moms pursuing an MBA. Thanks to this scholarship, I was able to dedicate myself fully to the program while meeting the other needs in my life.

Stephen: What was one of the strongest lessons that you learned in the MBA program that furthered your career from the onset after graduation?

Shana: The lesson that comes to mind is being assigned the work of evaluating my personal leadership philosophy. We did a lot of research, but we also had to do a lot of introspection and really think about “who do I want to be as a leader?” At the time, within my own organization, I was being looked at for progressively larger roles. So as a part of that process, when I came to my team and said, “I’ve done some thinking and here is who I want to be as a leader – here is the philosophy that I am bringing forward,” it really helped the organization invest in me. That assignment forced me to do introspective work; I thought about not only what leadership philosophies are but what is it that I want to embrace and who do I want to be day in and day out as a leader within my organization.

Stephen: Throughout your career, you’ve likely encountered significant challenges and setbacks that have altered your professional trajectory. What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students on how to navigate those moments and utilize them to come out on the other end stronger and more prepared for the future?

Shana: The advice I would give to anyone is that there is never just one path. When I think about my own journey and where I thought my career would lead after I graduated with my undergraduate degree, it’s actually led me in many different directions. There have been side steps and setbacks that have taken me where I am, including taking three years off to be a stay-at-home mom. After I did that, I anxiously wondered, “what does reentry look like?” I had to step back emotionally and get over the fact that my time away wasn’t a failure. That was a decision that I made at the time, and it has brought me to this new exciting point today. I encourage everyone not to look at setbacks as failure but rather as part of every path; failures will give you the experience, knowledge and perseverance that you need to ultimately reach where you want to go.

Stephen: How have you thought about and approached mentors in your career, and who do you normally look to when you’re in need of guidance?

Shana: I think a lot of times when professionals think about mentors, they think about a very formal arrangement – it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve been the fortunate recipient of others who have invested time in me through providing guidance and advice, both solicited and unsolicited. One of the individuals that worked with me in my career was the general counsel within my organization. I was writing some documents for his review, and I remember he challenged me and asked, “why did you write it this particular way?” I explained to him that I had followed the standard template, but he said, “if you don’t understand why you’re putting these particular words on paper, that’s not going to work. You must understand the “why” behind it.” His advice was very impactful for me and just one example of how he invested a small amount of time in me even though he was not my direct superior. When I think about his example, I think about all the people who’ve taken time and invested in me.

When I was at Wake Forest, some of the mentors that I had were the phenomenal teaching staff and professors who invested in my growth in all kinds of different ways. Whether it was allowing me to bring in some of the challenges that I was finding in the workplace and talking about real life scenarios, or talking with me about the application of what I was learning in the MBA program, they always took the time to make sure I was thinking about things the right way.

Stephen: What advice would you give to students on how to make a large impact as an entry level or junior employee on their team?

Shana: There’s two things that come to mind. The first is to approach everything with a growth mindset. Learning and understanding that you must learn a whole new set of skills as you enter the workforce is very important to early success. So, coming to work with that curiosity and a true desire to learn in all aspects is extremely important. The second is to make an impact. You have to approach things with courage and be willing to ask the questions that you think everyone else has the answers to; I guarantee, no one else knows and they’re waiting for someone to challenge them and to ask! Don’t be afraid to say, “have we thought about doing it this way?” or, “would we consider trying this new approach?” Leaders in an organization who embrace a growth mindset will be receptive and are going to be invested in you as an individual when they see your growth mindset. Have the courage to help propel the organization forward.

Stephen: As a woman in your field, what advice would you give to young women students and leaders in the Wake Forest community? How important have women mentors been in your career, and how have you tried to give back to the young women community, both before and after Wake Forest?

Shana: Human resources is a predominantly women-dominated field, so I’ve been fortunate to have many strong women role models. When I joined Allegacy, our organization was predominantly female. We have a Chairwoman of the Board, our prior CEO was a woman, and half of our executive team is female; I am lucky to have had wonderful mentors and leaders that I can look up to.

Recently, I had the benefit of participating in a Wake Forest webinar talking about women’s leadership and some phenomenal women leaders were sharing their advice and their expertise. It was a good reminder for all of us that, in the human aspect of it, we are all in this together. They talked about the challenges of leading at work and then transitioning to home, family and all the pressures that lie at home, and how it evolves over time. Additionally, they discussed the myth of work-life balance – that the truth lies in work-life integration. We all need our female friends, mentors, colleagues and leaders to give us the confidence to pursue work-life integration to thrive.

Stephen: What is your proudest career accomplishment?

Shana: When the George Floyd murder occurred in 2020, Allegacy took a look internally at our DE&I initiatives to make sure that we had an equitable and inclusive workplace. At that time, we didn’t have a formal program; I was tapped as the company’s first DE&I officer and asked to build a program with that focus. It has been a journey and is not complete, but I’m proud of the work that we’ve started. There’s an enormous amount of pride I have in the fact that the work that I have done, and that I continue to do, enables employees to come to work and feel like they are in a safe place where they belong.