Women in Business: Inspired to Achieve

 

Successful Women Describe Leadership Challenges, Successes

"In business, it's a professional, but personal, relationship," said panelist Sandra Williams at the second annual MBA Women in Business Women's Leadership Conference held in mid-February. This year's theme was Inspired to Achieve. Williams, a speaker and consultant, was one of three panelists in the afternoon session on leadership lessons. Sharing the stage were Lorna Doucet, assistant professor of business administration, and Susan Snowden, formerly a senior executive with RR Donnelley and currently a consultant. Joseph Broschak, assistant professor of business administration, moderated the leadership panel and posed questions about challenges in the workplace, tips for the job search, and networking strategies.

Networking was a popular topic. All three panelists emphasized the usefulness, both personally and professionally, of their network of peers. Snowden suggested always keeping a business card handy, recalling an incident where a friend of hers met his present boss at a carwash. Williams reinforced this idea, commenting that a first career is usually not the career that most people end up with. Someone just entering a professional field, she noted, should concentrate more on establishing a strong network of connections and on finding a culture/personality fit rather than on the specific duties of the job.

When asked if they had experienced any gender discrimination in their job setting, all three panelists responded that it was rare and often unintentional, never malicious. Doucet, who worked as a brewmaster for Labatt Brewing Company described difficulties she experienced, at age 23, working in a professional field dominated by middle-aged men, many of whom spoke French instead of English. With amusement, Doucet concluded that it was a learning experience for all parties involved. The panelists also mentioned more subtle forms of discrimination that were directed at anyone who was different, not just in terms of gender, from the majority group. The trio agreed that such incidents were rare and often the result of carelessness or miscommunication.

Today, working women are not a rarity yet the panelists noted that they still find themselves in situations where they are the only woman on a committee or in a meeting. Williams recited a common maxim: "to pursue what's in your gut." Williams believes that although her undergraduate degree was not specifically related to her current job, people who know her respect her opinion because she has followed her own dream.

Leadership lessons take a variety of forms as the three successful panels can attest. The well-attended panel session was followed by a wine and cheese reception where the guests put into practice the networking skills mentioned in the panel discussion.

--April Lillstrom
February 2005