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By Kayla Silverstein, E&W 2021
President, E&W WBA

I walked into the room at the information session for Kellogg’s Evening & Weekend MBA Program and immediately felt out of place. One of only a handful of women in the room, my imposter syndrome ran rampant. I thought with utter certainty: “I don’t belong here.” With a liberal arts background and an English degree, each slide about quantitative scores on tests for admissions and core accounting/finance coursework was a punch to my gut saying, “You’ll never pull this off.” I remember grabbing a seat in the very back, making nervous small talk, and struggling to envision how I could ever feel comfortable in this room full of confident men in suits.

Belonging, allyship & leadership

The Evening & Weekend Women’s Business Association (WBA) is the reason I didn’t give up. One of those confident men happened to be an admitted student and my first experience with true allyship. He listened to my concerns of not seeing myself in that room, and he encouraged me to attend my first WBA happy hour. I was absolutely enthralled by the women I met there. I met career-pivoters, part-time-student-full-time mothers, and women who had the same concerns as my own about how to balance warmth and competency in business. There were also history majors and anthropologists who had passed accounting! I was struck by their willingness to blend their personal concerns and professional growth. Those women continued to inspire me as I studied for the math portion of the GRE, wrote my admissions essays, and completed the interview process — and I would not be here without their support.

The women of WBA motivated me in getting through the doors of Wieboldt, and their support continued to compound throughout the program. I continue to say yes to challenges and volunteer for new opportunities knowing I have a community cheering me on: A group of strong, powerful, empathetic women and allies who fully recognize that we are building a community with equal access to the confidence that men have historically assumed by default. It’s by women and allies lifting each other up, bringing other inclusive leaders to share their stories, and cultivating a sense of community that allows us to harness our power and pass on that strength to each other and the women who come after us.

When the opportunity presented itself to lead WBA, I knew it would further challenge me to embrace my own strengths and leverage the strengths of those around me as the capstone of my Kellogg journey. I lean heavily on those that have led this organization before me, and it’s been a great lesson in being okay with not having all the answers. And nothing could have highlighted the need to be agile than leading during COVID. Harnessing my strengths of optimism and getting energy from inspiring others, I’ve witnessed others mirroring my commitment to this community. Embracing my strengths more fully has allowed me to connect deeper with others in even the most uncertain and trying environment.

Reflecting on Women’s History Month

Kellogg teaches us to reflect often on pivotal moments in our life where everything is changed by taking one path over another. That risk we took, that job we stretched for, that challenge we said yes to. Kellogg has been an enormous pivot point for me, both personally and professionally, and I am 100% here because of the strong women who came before me to help break the ceiling for me to rise. I’m honored to continue doing the same for others this Women’s History Month and throughout my life. As I graduate this June, I look forward to passing the torch to the next group of WBA leaders and members. I can’t wait to see all the amazing events (hopefully more in-person!) they put on, and I know I’ll be back for many alumnae events.

One such event is the International Women’s Day celebration that is an annual highlight of WBA programming. For 2021, with all that we have experienced, we wanted to make it extra special. Knowing we all are hungry for connection, inspiration, and hope, we designed a series of events that span the entire month. It makes me so happy to think of the students starting their Kellogg journey virtually can still feel just as connected to our WBA community.

My challenge to those female leaders is to never underestimate your strength. For allies, encourage the women around you to seek out support, to tell stories and to keep showing up to rooms of confident men in suits. I want all of us to consider who we influence by showing up: who we convince that they can pass accounting and succeed in an MBA program while getting promoted at a full-time job and building lasting relationships. By embracing your strength, you too can carry the torch and inspire future generations of female leaders.