Women’s Weekend – Wake Graduate Women in Business connect, celebrate diversity, and strategize to elevate women to more leadership positions in corporate America.
Concern over leadership and wage gaps between women and men in corporate America brought students, alumni, and executive women together to share advice and discuss strategy during the Wake Graduate Women in Business Women’s Weekend, April 23-24, 2010.
Dean of Business Steve Reinemund hosted the Women’s Weekend welcoming reception at his home. Keynote speaker Sandra Miller Jones inspired attendees with her personal success story. Jones, a Winston-Salem native, was one of the first African-American women to receive a Master in Business Administration degree from Northwestern University. She went on to become the first African-American woman manager at Quaker Oats and left in 1978 to start her own company, Segmented Marketing Services, Inc.
“It doesn’t matter where you are now. It’s where you can go. If you have that vision and you prepare yourself, it’s going to be o.k.,” said Jones when sharing the story of how her father went from being a janitor to becoming a journalist.
Jones encouraged women to be direct and ask for what they need. Building and maintaining strong relationships are an essential part of career success, she said. Jones recognized that women face specific challenges. “Women are still held responsible for the well being of the family. We don’t get a pass because we have a deadline. We have to deal with it,” said Jones.
Work-life balance was a focal point of the Women’s Weekend panel discussion. Dr. Barbee Oakes, Assistant Provost for Diversity and Inclusion at Wake Forest University asked panelists to share advice with aspiring women leaders.
“Work-life balance is not a static thing. It is very organic, fluid, and flexible,” said Nicole Green, vice president, brand evangelist with Mullen and Frank about Women advertising agency. “It is really up to you to draw boundaries. Do it early and often before it gets out of hand,” said Green.
Cindy Quinlan, owner and chief consultant for Thangami International, earned her MBA from Wake Forest University in 1991. She started her own company in 2005 when her position with CSX World Terminals was going to transfer to Dubai. “When you run your own company it is still really hard to maintain balance. Be authentic with who you are and take a holistic approach on your life and career,” said Quinlan.
Mary Kesel, president and chief executive of Benefit Advocates, Inc. and adjunct professor of human resources management at Wake Forest University, encouraged women to change company culture. “Most bosses are looking at situations like it’s still in the 1960’s and men go to work and women stay home and take care of the children. Changing culture is your duty as you go forward in your career to move into the C suite. Women should not have to sacrifice as much as they do. It’s up to you to change the culture,” said Kesel.
Panelists said executive women often face the challenge of getting buy-in with male co-workers. Susan Alt (MBA '95), vice president of industry relations for Mack and Volvo Trucks North America, works in a male dominated industry. “When you walk into a company, respect your elders, respect the tribal knowledge. Ask for help and get to know your co-workers,” said Alt.
Women’s Weekend attendees had a chance to network and engage in one-on-one discussion with conference panelists. “In class, we don’t really get to discuss particular things that are specific to women and business, so it was a great opportunity to get together with other women and ask tough questions,” said Sandie Taylor (MBA '11).
Women’s Weekend also included a trip to the River Run Film Festival to see “Soap & Water” a documentary about women working at a dry cleaning operation in Hamburg, Germany. It concluded with “Cupcake Wars” – a casual, but competitive activity to foster teamwork and networking.
“This weekend has helped to forge relationships and build networks among women so when we do go out in the workplace, we are not only thinking about ourselves, but keeping the doors open for other women,” said Ahkesha Murray (MBA '11).