Student leadership drives Women’s Business Association Conference, creating a forum for building skills, exchanging ideas and making connections that produce professional success
4/13/2007 - When Connie Duckworth graduated from the University of Texas in the mid-1970s, professional women fell into one of three categories: They were teachers, nurses or secretaries.
“Those were the three jobs,” said Duckworth during a keynote address April 11. “I was a secretary because I could type and I didn’t like blood.”
Over the years, though, she found ways to break free of those vocational limitations by pursuing an MBA. Once Duckworth broke out of the typing pool, she began a journey that included a distinguished 20-year career with Goldman Sachs & Co., where she was a partner and managing director — the first woman to hold those titles in the firm’s history — until retiring in 2001. Duckworth, today president and chair of Arzu Inc., a public-private partnership that helps Afghan women weavers earn consistent wages, shared her professional story at the 2007 Kellogg Women’s Business Association Conference, with women (and men) whose careers are unfettered by antiquated gender roles.
Though she acknowledged the great strides toward gender equality made since her years as an undergraduate, Duckworth said women still face obstacles their male peers do not.
“There’s a double standard for women in the workplace,” she said, explaining that while men are given “very broad latitude” for choice of dress, conversation topics and leadership style, women are still expected to conform to certain unspoken rules to avoid being pigeonholed as too nice or too aggressive — extremes easily tied to negative stereotypes of women in power. Duckworth likened the performance a woman professional to that of an actor: “It’s very easy to overshoot or undershoot. That’s why they re-shoot those scenes a thousand times.”
The student-organized conference, whose theme was, “Owning Your Future: Effecting Change Throughout Your Career,” brought accomplished executives and community leaders to the James L. Allen Center, and the day’s events included six panel discussions. Lead conference chair Lisa Ward ’07 said holding the conference at Kellogg just makes sense: “This school is an environment were women aren’t afraid to take leadership roles.”
Associate Professor of Management and Organizations Adam Galinsky moderated a discussion titled, “Career Progression: Take Control by Negotiating and Understanding your Competition,” which focused on ways to avoid financial mistakes commonly made by successful women. Panelists included Karin Sloan, CEO of Karin Sloan & Co., and Wendy White, director of technology marketing and communications at Motorola.
In “Giving Back: Getting Involved in Community through Organizations and Outreach,” panelists and moderator Clinical Professor Anne Cohn Donnelly discussed the rewards and challenges of performing pro bono service, specifically participating on nonprofit boards.
Before choosing a board to join, said Alice Watrobka, who chairs the board of the Girl Scouts of Trailways Council and is the president and co-owner of Triumph Restoration, the first and most important thing to consider is the board’s mission. “If you don’t have a passion for their mission, if you can’t speak to what they do, you’re not going to be an effective board member, no matter how much money you give,” she said.
When asked how a new alumna might land her first board position, Ingrid Stafford ’78, associate vice president of financial operations and treasurer of Northwestern University, said being a dependable and devoted volunteer is the quickest way to earn a board’s respect. “Visit the agency or organization and ask for information on how you can get involved as a volunteer,” said Stafford, who is also the vice president of the governing council of Trinity Lutheran Church in Evanston.
Newer alumnae found additional tailored insights in “The First 5 Years,” a panel moderated by Roxanne Hori, assistant dean and director of the Kellogg School’s Career Management Center. Four recent graduates shared strategies for navigating professional life after Kellogg. The first tip: Find a mentor.
“Spend a lot of time thinking about the things you’re not so good at,” said Jill Attkisson ’99, a senior consultant and project manager at Hewitt Associates. “Find somebody who’s really good at those things and ask them how they did it.”
Mentors sometimes crop up in unexpected places, added Laura Pollack ’03, Northwest Community Hospital’s cancer services division. “It’s important not to think of a mentor as someone who’s one, two, three levels ahead of you.” Panelist Aisha Williams ’05, an investment officer for International Finance Co., agreed. “As you do well in your job, you meet more people,” she said. “You find more people you’d like to tie yourself to and learn from.”
Asked how to handle a conflict with a ruthless boss, Shari Gordon ’03 advised new alumnae to be open and honest: “Confronting the issue head-on has worked best for me in the past,” she said, adding that a direct discussion may end with partial or total capitulation to the boss. “Remember that this person is your boss and you’ll probably have to adapt more than they will.”
Another discussion, “Beyond the First 5 Years,” picked up where its sister panel left off. Moderated by McCormick School Professor William White, the panel featured insights from alumnae at least five years removed from Kellogg. Other roundtable sessions included a focus on negotiations, entrepreneurship and global business.
Susan Butler, chief executive officer of the Susan Bulkeley Butler Institute for the Development of Women Leaders, suggested in her keynote address that adapting to the expectations of one’s superiors need not be a purely defensive move.
“Start acting like the role you want so people can see you in that role before you get there,” she said, noting that the upper echelons of management can’t be expected to know what kind of leader anyone would be without seeing that person lead.
Butler encouraged the current and future businesswomen in the audience to “make things happen for you instead of letting things happen to you,” but reminded them not to neglect the supportive network that helped them succeed. “I will be the first one to tell you that none of you got here by yourself, and none of you will be able to achieve your aspirations by yourself. You need a team of people to help you.”
On the pursuit of those aspirations, Butler urged the group not to waste a moment. “Tomorrow is the first day of the future,” she said. “It’s not five years from now. It’s tomorrow.”