Be the woman, find the woman, teach the woman – those were the directives delivered to the 400 attendees at the 2017 Women’s Leadership Initiative Conference hosted recently by Mays Business School.

This was the first year Texas A&M University opened the annual event to the public after starting at Mays’ CityCentre Houston as a series of seminars to help current and former female MBA students create connections and practice networking skills for their professional development.

The conference is one of the learning experiences that continue to make Mays Business School a vibrant learning organization.“The Women’s Leadership Initiative seeks to leverage the power of our powerful network and to arrest the progression of this alarming gender gap,” said Annie McGowan, Mays Business School’s Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion.

This year’s participants heard from transformational leaders retired Col. Kim Olson, Deb Merril, and KC Allan Waldron.

Olson, the keynote speaker, recommended that women

  • Find a friend
  • Find a champion who will mentor you
  • Find someone to mentor
  • Find someone who is different than you
  • Find an enlightened man

Olson, who is a retired aviation leader from the Air Force, described her experiences as one woman among thousands of men in the military. “An educated young woman is a force to be reckoned with,” she said. “You are the spending power of this country, but you are not the earning power. You are also the political leaders, whether you like it or not. You either give time, talent, or treasure – that’s how it works.”

During a discussion panel over lunch, Deb Merril and KC Allan Waldron ’97 talked about the trials and triumphs of their careers. The moderator was Cindy Devers, associate professor of management and Mays Research Fellow.

Waldron, who received an accounting degree from Mays, is vice president of Advisor Services Compliance for Charles Schwab & Co. She said one of her coping tactics when faced with a tough decision is to envision the worst-case scenario and how she will survive it, then move on without hesitation. “My parents said, ‘Be yourself and do what you think is right. If you get fired, we’ll pay your rent.’ Then I could move ahead without fear.”

Merril, a co-CEO and president of a company called Just Energy Group, said her theory is that everyone has a superpower. “Invest time in learning what those are,” she said. “Find someone who is smarter than you and learn all you can from them.”

She also advised never making apologies for working hard. “When I’m with my kids I’m totally there, and when I’ve missed things, I’ve never apologized about it. I’ve never made them think I’m unhappy doing what I do,” she said. “They are my biggest champions, and they are seeing a very strong woman who expects a lot. That’s what I want them to expect of all women.”

The table discussions after lunch were lively and enlightening. “We have 50 tables, so we have 50 powerful groups who can have some meaningful discussions,” said Shannon Deer, director of the Mays Full-Time MBA Program. “We can create bonds and make impacts right here.”

In preparation for next year’s conference, Mays leaders are already lining up the program and speakers – with a goal of making it just as impactful as this year’s. Stay tuned for more information.