Advancing Women in Business Begins with Supporting Each Other
By Corbin Rugh (E&W 2021)
VP, Professional Development, E&W WBA
I feel guilty to admit that I was once intimidated by the important cause of advancing women in the professional world. Having only worked at small companies, I didn’t feel I had the power to impact gender dynamics in the wider world of business. Through my MBA journey, I have been so fortunate to learn that our ability to empower women in the workforce doesn’t come through big sweeping actions or shattering glass ceilings, it comes through many small conscious decisions to support each other.
A change in perspective
I started seeing the power of this support when I decided to get serious about an MBA. One of my first forays into school research was a Kellogg Evening & Weekend Women’s Business Association event for prospective students. The women on the panel weren’t set on being the ones to expand the measly 14% of Fortune 500 women executive officers as I had expected, though any of them certainly could. What inspired me was that they were visibly empowered by their Kellogg experiences, making meaningful moves in their careers, and so eager to help others along their way. After being reminded that “a guy would just apply even if they’re not totally qualified but we girls feel like we need to check every box,” I was so encouraged to go for it.
I followed up with a few current students to have coffee chats and learn more about their experiences. These conversations did much more than help confirm that Kellogg would be the place for me. I was pleasantly surprised that our natural exchange of ideas actually allowed me to help current students in return. This was exactly what I couldn’t articulate wanting in an MBA program: a generous peer group willing to bring their experiences, think through new ideas, and support each other. Even better, I had the confidence that I could reciprocate as a member of the community.
Lending my voice
Many months later, I began my degree at Kellogg in the Evening & Weekend MBA Program and found myself crossing paths in Wieboldt with the women whose encouragement brought me there. As luck would have it, I was able to join the WBA leadership as VP of Professional Development. With the need to adapt to an all-virtual COVID-19 environment, there were clear gaps in our ability to connect with each other that would otherwise happen around classes and events. My committee rose to the challenge first with a “Performance Review Advice Jam Session,” where we were able to have a candid conversation about our best tips from classes and tricks we do to make ourselves feel empowered.
This type of event was so well-received that we expanded on the theme with additional events delving into topics like burnout and reflecting on our year, one of the tenets of Kellogg’s value-based leadership philosophy. It has been so rewarding to find new ways that WBA can help women support each other beyond our beloved speaker-led events. At a time that connecting with peers feels more challenging, we continue to find creative solutions to provide advice, exchange ideas and help each other.
Building a life-long network
They say one of the biggest benefits of an MBA is the opportunity to build a network of like-minded peers and alums. Two alumnae recently showed us the value of these peer relationships when they spoke on a panel we hosted called, “Being and Becoming a Working Mom.” As the conversation evolved, a clear theme of building your village emerged. These amazing alumnae shared how they have been that critical support for each other through graduating from the Kellogg Evening & Weekend MBA in 2006, becoming moms and navigating fulfilling careers all at the same time. It was an inspiring reminder that the relationships we build today and continue to cultivate will be our village for many years to come.
As I reflect on what has made my journey at Kellogg so fulfilling, it all comes back to the brave peers, especially the women, who have been at my side. Together, we are tackling the challenges that come our way, helping our allies help us and creating meaningful lives, careers and relationships in the process. After all, it is in supporting each other and lifting each other up that we even have a chance at reaching those glass ceilings.