Women's Leadership Initiative | Mays Impacts

On November 12th, the theme “Reinvent Your Narrative; Leading with Strength and Resilience” echoed throughout The Zone Club at Kyle Field. Mays Business School’s Women’s Leadership Initiative Conference program offered a wealth of inspirational ideas and a chance for women leaders to network, while several sessions touched their hearts with stories of overcoming great life challenges. The conference was made possible thanks to the financial support of corporate sponsors BP, PwC, Reynolds & Reynolds Sales Leadership Institute, EY, Randstad, and Lockheed Martin.

Approximately 350 women professionals and Texas A&M University students filled the room, while another 150 attended virtually. “If I’m being honest, it was so cool to be at Kyle Field, on Ring Day and celebrating women,” said Morgan Young ’02, vice president at Lockton Dunning Benefits in Plano, TX. “To know that each and every person there has a crazy busy life, yet they took the whole day to invest in themselves and grow personally and professionally – it made me feel so proud to be a part of a university that gave us this opportunity. And the chocolate cake was insanely good!”

The focus and energy of the conference resonated with everyone in the audience—including those who attended this conference in the past. “Previous years’ conferences were amazing in their own right but were more or less good reminders for me,” said Jaime Ledford ’06, a senior business program manager for Amegy Bank in Houston, TX. “I appreciated the applicable learning this year, specifically the ‘Leading with Strengths’ where we were able to see how strengths have a strong side and a shadow side.”

Woman smiling at a table surrounded by other women

Women enjoyed being back together in person. Review the full #MaysWLI ’21 photo album.

The first-time attendees also applauded the conference’s presentations. “The quality of speakers stood out to me; they showed humility, leadership, strength, courage, and transparency,” said Tracy Foster ’96, associate agency director and chief financial officer at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service in College Station, TX. “In this day and age, it’s so refreshing to see women leaders who can speak about their challenges and obstacles with a focus on reaching a hand to lift other women leaders in growth personally and professionally.”

Attendees learned new ideas and received the motivation to put them into action. They also left with plans to attend the 2022 conference, which is scheduled for Friday, October 14, 2022 with Chevron as the title sponsor. “I’ve already gone back and bragged to the women leaders in my office and encouraged them to come next year,” Young said. “The thoughtfulness that went into planning the day, the order of the speakers and variety of information was terrific.”

Rewriting Life’s Narrative

The conference focused on helping women become proactive in their lives through questioning society’s social constructs. “We can go through life accepting constructs just as they are presented to us, but there is a great deal to be gained from examining their meaning and the manner which they are applied,” Texas A&M’s Interim Vice President and Associate Vice President for Diversity Annie McGowan told the audience. “Cues that suggest marginality or a lack of a critical mass in a particular setting can impact the way that we feel about being in that space.”

The day’s program focused on learning how to view these cues and then interrupt the impact on lives. “The better equipped we are to process the impact of these cues on our own narrative and those of others, the more we can dedicate our important resources to blazing a trail into the domains of our choices,” McGowan said.

Strong, Resilient Leadership

The conference didn’t shy away from addressing the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, which created significant stress for women in trying to learn to combine work and home. BP Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Dawn Constantin shared her journey to find balance, even as she struggled with depression caused by the pandemic as well as BP’s reorganization. She found that she had to learn how to come from a place of strength by being true to herself. “To me, that means showing up and being your genuine, authentic, real self, no matter what situation you’re in,” she said. “To be yourself, you have to know yourself and spend time with yourself. What gets you excited? What gets you out of bed in the morning?”

This analysis allows women to determine how they want to show up in every area of life and then choose aligned behaviors. “The more authentic you are and the more genuine you are in everything you do, the more engaging you are,” she said. “People want to listen to you and be with you. People want to work with you—and that’s powerful. That’s walking into the room with strength.”

Constantin also pointed to the importance of resilience. “Everyone has goals, and you have to work for them,” she said. “You have to grit your teeth, put in the hours, ask the questions, be curious, get smarter.”

Resilience also is important in relation to working with other people. Constantin described how she used her knowledge of sports to help build connections with male colleagues. “You have to learn to relate to people, because the people you work with will help you get to where you want to be,” she said. “You have to be able to find that connection point, build that trust, and build that kind of relationship.”

She stressed self-care’s role in creating resilience. “Pay attention to you. Nobody can give 150% seven days a week, 365 days a year. You will drop, so take a break. Pay attention to your physical and mental health,” she said. “This became such an important issue, living through the pandemic.”

Reinventing one’s narrative is critical. “Nobody is perfect,” Constantin said. “It’s really important to seek advice and get feedback because nobody has this all figured out. Everyone makes mistakes; everyone has distractions along the way.”

She encouraged listeners to seek a mentor, coach, pastor, leader, teacher, or friend. “It’s really important to seek criticism and constructive feedback from people you trust,” she said. “It will make you better, so whatever rooms we show up in or want to influence, we can be better over time.”

Finding Strengths

Two sessions by Dr. Sarah Jaks, associate director of Mays Full-Time MBA Program, helped the audience identify their strengths and then begin to figure out how to utilize them. She encouraged the audience to identify their strengths through determining what they enjoy doing, when they felt their best, and the words that describe their strengths. “Shift your story and tell the story that you want to tell,” she said.

Using the Strength Finders analysis as a basis, Jaks pointed out that every person has all 34 strengths, but some strengths are more prevalent. She encouraged the audience to focus on their top strengths, as opposed to trying to hone what they consider “weaknesses.” Combining strengths also can be advantageous because together they cause an amplifier effect.

Teams also benefit from understanding members’ strengths. Jaks pointed out that this approach allows teams to use everyone’s strengths, understand different perspectives, and operate effectively as a team.

Elevating Communities

The conference also addressed the importance of helping women who have faced significant life challenges. Mays Interim Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs Shannon Deer and Quantum Circles Consulting Owner Cheryl Miller described “women overcomers” who have rewritten their narratives from an earlier life chapter spent in poverty, addiction, incarceration, and/or engagement in the sex trade. “These were stories that at one time were about darkness and destruction that become stories about hope and new life,” Miller said. “We have found that women who have overcome challenging pasts become some of the most productive and loyal employees.”

Citing several examples—including Miller’s own story of overcoming addiction and poverty to raise premature twins—the pair said it’s important to realize that society often unfairly puts middle-class expectations on these women. Additionally, this expectation leads to the creation of assumptions that these women are not able to or willing to do the work to succeed.

Inviting the audience to think back to their early days in leadership, the speakers asked them to consider how they felt—and how those feelings can help turn around the lives of women overcomers. “We advocate for immediate leadership opportunities for women overcomers,” Deer said. “That’s early opportunities to lead, whether that’s in big or small ways.”

Additionally, the co-authors of “Business Doing Good: Engaging Women and Elevating Communities” noted that many of the skills that women learn when they are struggling are useful and valuable skills in business. For example, previous attributes such as being bossy, pushy, and manipulative can be reframed and then used in productive ways.

This session resonated with many attendees—but perhaps none more than Stephanie Davis ’00, the director of educational development of the non-profit, Together for Haiti, which seeks to encourage, equip and empower vulnerable women. “One of the most powerful points the speakers made is that these vulnerable women have been told they have character flaws, but those flaws are just strengths that haven’t been harnessed for good yet,” the resident of Salado, TX said.

Finding Resilience

The importance of personal resilience also is critical in the face of tragedy. Tara Storch shared her journey after her teenage daughter, Taylor, died in a skiing accident. The family decided to donate Taylor’s organs, which resulted in saving five lives.

Storch described her quest after her daughter’s death. “I had a longing to hear her heartbeat again,” she told the audience.” She did just that, meeting the nurse who benefitted from Taylor’s heart as television cameras captured the moment.

Storch and her husband used this tragedy to make a difference for society through creating Taylor’s Gift Foundation, which emotionally supports organ donor families and shares the importance of outliving yourself through organ donation. “We had to make the best out of the worst situation, so we decided to focus on the good,” Storch said. “The good was that Taylor saved lives and so we decided to create something to honor her legacy and keep her spirit alive. Our sweet girl is still impacting lives to this day.”

Attendees were moved by Storch’s ability to pick herself up and move forward in such a meaningful way after the death of a child. “Tara took one of the most awful situations a mom/parent can experience and turned it into a battle cry of how to outlive yourself,” Young said.

Avoiding the Red Zone

The day’s final session encouraged the audience to consider how they lead when facing pressure and triggers that mark the red zone. “We are not on our firm footing when we are in fight or flight,” said co-presenter Cindy Billington, interim director of Mays Graduate Career Management Center. “It means something has caused us to freeze, but freeze in a way so that our brain, our head, our heart, and our soul are not talking to one another.”

For women to keep their feet planted so they can be at their best requires incorporating their head and their heart, which creates soulful leadership. This type of leadership involves strategic thinking as well as character.

Billington also tied soulful leadership to self-care, noting that regularly taking specific actions—whether meditation, laughter, running, aromatherapy or chocolate–boosts dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins in the brain. “These help you access your soul, and your soul is what is going to bring you back into perspective, so the fight or flight comes back into center,” she said.

Soulful leadership also requires changing one’s internal dialogue. “Reinventing your narrative really starts with what you tell yourself,” Mays Director of Diversity Nancy Hutchins said. “Seventy-seven percent of our thoughts are negative. It’s important to think about the things you say to yourself on a daily basis and focus more on positive self-talk. Your thoughts and words influence your actions and decisions.”

Participants left with a better understanding of how to proactively navigate their careers and their lives—and how to empower others to do the same to help advance the world’s prosperity. “You need to be able to identify and use your strengths. What is the use of a strength if you don’t use it?” one participant said. “Use it for yourself and use it for others—and remind others to use it.”

Next Steps

 

Categories: Diversity and Inclusion, Featured Stories, Former Students, Mays Business, News, Students, Texas A&M, Women's Leadership Initiative

Some of the world’s greatest advancements have come from strong women. Amelia Earhart, Madam Curie, Rosa Parks, and countless others have left lasting impressions in history. While the world has exponentially changed, the potential for women to enact change has not. At the 2019 Women’s Leadership Initiative Conference women gathered from across the local community, state, and country, with great excitement for another year of encouragement, equipping, and edification.

The conference opened with a welcome from Eli Jones ’82, Mays Business School Dean and Professor of Marketing, and a champion of the Women’s Leadership Initiative in Mays. “The Women’s Leadership Initiative is directly in step with Mays vision to advance the world’s prosperity. In all of our endeavors we aim to embrace change, paint vision, and move our organization towards it,” Jones said. “This conference is a part of the vision painted to include women in the advancing of the world’s prosperity.”

A common thread

This year’s speakers all spoke to that common theme – Advancing the World’s Prosperity.

Laura Arnold, Co-founder of Arnold Ventures, proposed the idea that maybe advancing the world’s prosperity had more to do with improving people’s lives, not just their situation. That to truly advance the world’s prosperity we, as a society, need to leave people better than we find them. And in order to do so, we need to maximize opportunity and minimize injustice. That sentiment is not without challenge though. Arnold was quick to acknowledge, “It’s not like smart people haven’t thought about improving people’s lives and just didn’t feel like doing it. It’s a slow process because it’s hard.” Arnold also mentioned that “there is nothing abstract about the American Dream” as she advocated for better access to education for all people. She shared her own story of success after moving to America from Puerto Rico and working hard to earn the opportunity to study at Harvard. “We can continue to write checks, but the real power is to set the system right by law and public policy. To create a chance for prosperity for all, not just a few. We don’t need to just lift people over barriers but remove barriers entirely.”

Jacquie Baly, President of BalyProjects, gave the conference her rules to advance prosperity, achieve dreams, and defy odds. Baly walked us through her life, in which adversity is a reoccurring cast member. She moved to Florida from the U.S. Virgin Islands when she was seven and was subsequently bullied for her accent. She was the first female department head in the city of Sugarland. Baly was a single mother to two boys while juggling a full-time, very public career as a tv show host. Through all of these stages, she learned to believe in herself, to prioritize her time and commitments, and to be flexible. All of these lessons, she imparted upon the WLIC audience saying, “Maybe you’re not where you thought you’d be. Or maybe you don’t know where you’re heading… Those are just speed bumps. Adjust. Adapt. Keep moving forward.”

Dr. Patricia Sulak took the stage after lunch. At a time of day where it is easy to lose focus, Sulak had the crowd sitting on the edge of their seat. With a heavy focus on advancing your wellness as a piece of advancing prosperity, Sulak really dug into defining wellness. Wellness has five categories: physical, social, psychological, financial, and spiritual. To achieve true wellness, Sulak posited that we must fulfill each role’s expectations, but we tend to self-limit ourselves. She asked, “If we have self-limiting thoughts, how will we fulfill the expectations of our roles?” and then followed it with, “Inside all of us is the ability to have a great life, but you have to get the imposters out of the way. Things happen that cause us to be someplace we don’t want to be – while it’s not your fault, it is your problem. How will you solve it?” Sulak gave us her 12 essentials to wellness and gifted a copy of her book to conference attendees.

Mays Talks live

The conference wrapped up with Mays Talks – a live podcast taping of Mays MasterCast. Host Ben Wiggins facilitated a conversation with Bridgette Chambers, Shannon Deer, and Janet Turner Parish. The hour-long conversation covered topics like the balance of work and life, the impact our words have, and the power that the millennial generation holds.

Next year’s Women’s Leadership Initiative Conference, on October 16, 2020, is already generating excitement. With a rapidly growing attendance rate, the conference is sure to remain an impactful and important space for cultivating women in leadership and generating connections that will advance the world’s prosperity for years to come.

 

Whether you missed this year’s conference or had the opportunity to experience the power, share your story with #MaysWLI and @MaysBusiness

Categories: Mays Business, Texas A&M, Women's Leadership Initiative

(Read a comprehensive story about the conference)

By Bill Peel, Executive Director of Innovation & Strategic Planning

It’s impossible to anticipate the dynamic of being one of five men in a room filled with 400 enthusiastic,  energetic women eagerly anticipating the lessons to be gleaned from a conference titled “From Bossy to Transformational.” That’s exactly the situation I found myself in as I attended the second annual Mays Business School “Women’s Leadership Initiative” conference.

To say that I came with preconceptions about this forum would be a gross understatement. Yet, as I peered through the “looking glass” into the world of women in leadership, I was enveloped by the challenges women face in leadership roles – challenges that are unique and uncommon to their male counterparts. I left with an enlightened respect for a woman’s leadership journey and the manner in which I could better interface with women in the workplace. I also left with leadership lessons applicable to my own career.

Julie Lenzer ’88 challenged the conference participants to get out of their comfort zones, go someplace they’ve never imagined, and follow the thread that will weave their career path. She reminded us that we never know who’s following our careers and the impressions we will make with our actions. I smiled as she noted to “beware of saying something out loud, as it might just prompt your next career move.” It was disappointing, yet realistic, to be reminded that “men can make women feel uncomfortable” in the workplace, vowing to increase my sensitivity to this tendency in myself. The point that resonated the loudest was not to “spend our lives ‘shoulding’ on ourselves.” That one hit home!

Janeen Judah ’81 focused her comments on the three E’s that frame our journey from tactical to transformational leadership – excellence, endurance, and empowerment. She reminded participants to “have a specialty people know us for, finding something we like and becoming good at it.” Be open to new experiences and don’t become rigid in our career plan. Her emphasis on the power of people was vividly displayed as conference participants exchanged contact information and broadened their network. She challenged us to “keep the ladder down, helping those behind us,” reminding me of the importance of being a coach and mentoring someone else along the way, possibly even someone we met that day. Judah cautioned women not to say “yes” to everything, as it causes them to burn out.  She also challenged women to brag about themselves and learn how to tell their own story, noting that “if you don’t know it, no one else will.” That one got a star in my meeting notes!

The lunch panel was a rapid-fire exchange of tips on issues and opportunities facing women as transformational leaders. Men are simply unaware of the “cycle of weariness” that women face as they are not only leaders, but also wives and mothers. It’s true that “a woman’s work is never done.”

Communication and presentation skills were common themes as the panelists implored women to “learn to brag on themselves” and “be ready to present at a moment’s notice.” It was interesting to learn that women often lead with “I think” or “I feel” when men seek direct communication. Authenticity and confidence were tips offered to elevate the perception of women’s leadership acumen.

The power-packed day ended with Shantera Chatman ’98’s presentation and role playing on negotiation. She stressed the power of self-worth and the ability to “quiet the inner voices” that distract us. “Every time you have a crucial conversation, it gets easier,” Chatman noted, as she blended hints with humor to engage the audience. A member of my table thrust her hand high in the air when there was a call for volunteers. The young professional, a mere six months into her career, was hungry for the tips that would empower her to be a better negotiator and self-advocate. It was so rewarding to feel the energy and see the impact the day had made on her and the other women leaders in the room.

The view through the “looking glass” was both convicting and compelling. It revealed a day filled with energy, engagement, enthusiasm, and excitement. And this appreciative male participant left with a new perspective of the challenges women face and the value women leaders bring to our organizations.

Categories: Diversity and Inclusion, Featured Stories, Former Students, Mays Business, News, Programs, Students, Texas A&M, Women's Leadership Initiative

(Read a man’s perspective of the conference).

Fifty-five years after Texas A&M University first began admitting female students, Mays Business School is encouraging women to step into top leadership roles in their organizations and communities. Mays’ Women’s Leadership Initiative Conference, held Oct. 19, offered tips on becoming a transformational leader, overcoming issues that women face in the work world, and negotiations. The conference was attended by approximately 400 current students, former students, Mays faculty and staff, and key stakeholders.

The conference opened with a welcome by Mays Dean Eli Jones ’82, who pointed out that the first strategic initiative in Mays strategic plan calls for increasing diversity and inclusion. This conference encourages women – who are often missing from corporate executive offices — to start stepping into leadership roles. …Read more

Categories: Alumni, Dean Eli Jones, Diversity and Inclusion, Faculty, Featured Stories, Former Students, Mays Business, News, Perspectives, Spotlights, Staff, Texas A&M, Women's Leadership Initiative

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. …Read more

Categories: Alumni, Diversity and Inclusion, Featured Stories, Former Students, Mays Business, News, Programs, Texas A&M, Women's Leadership Initiative

Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School will explore “Strategies for Navigating the Path to Executive Leadership” in its semi-annual Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) conference on Oct. 20 at Texas A&M University. In its eighth year, WLI was created as a vehicle to boost the number of women in leadership positions and demonstrate the school’s commitment to developing women as transformational leaders.

The 2017 Mays WLI Conference is a dynamic one-day leadership conference that focuses on critical issues pertaining to women’s leadership development. The conference theme will focus on the strategies for women to step up to the corner office. Attendees are invited to explore issues that women leaders face through a keynote featuring Col. Kimberly D. Olson, dialogues, networking and a luncheon panel discussion.

“WLI is a great example of our mission to develop the Mays Transformational Leader: Responsible, ethical leaders with entrepreneurial mindsets and vision, who have strong business competencies and personify selfless service,” said Mays Dean Eli Jones.

This year’s theme was inspired by the underrepresentation of women in executive leadership positions. National statistics show that 50 percent of all undergraduate degrees and 30 percent of MBAs granted in the U.S. in 2014 went to women. Yet fewer than 5 percent of Fortune 500 firms are headed by women.

According to Annie McGowan, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion at Mays Business School, the goal of WLI is to arrest national trends by leveraging the knowledge of the school’s world-class leadership faculty, the adult learning expertise of the Mays Center for Executive Development, and the power of the Aggie Network to offer a gateway to seats at board tables and development activities for those aspiring to expand the scope of their leadership opportunities.

The event will take place in the Memorial Student Center Bethancourt Ballroom at Texas A&M University.

The conference is open to the public. Registration before Sept.15 is $400 for a table of eight, $60 for business leaders, $30 for faculty and staff, and $12 for college-aged students. All meals and refreshments are included in the registration fee.

The event is sponsored in part by Mays Business School’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

For more information and to register, visit tx.ag/MaysWLI17  

About the speakers:

Kimberly D. Olson, Colonel (Retired) – Through her trail-blazing military service as an aviation leader, commander and patriot Col. Olson has reshaped the perception of women serving their country. She was part of the first generation of female military pilots in the United States Air Force and one of the first to command an operational flying squadron. She served in the Pentagon on the Joint Staff, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the Air Staff and deployed to several combat zones, including Iraq. As the retired CEO/President of Grace After Fire, a Texas-based nonprofit dedicated to helping women veterans help themselves, she reshaped how care was delivered to thousands of women veterans.

Annie McGowan, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, Mays Business School – McGowan heads the Mays Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which aims to realize Mays’ strategic vision as a vibrant learning organization that respects differences and embraces connectedness. McGowan works with members of the school in the areas of cultural sensitivity and inclusion, diversity in student recruitment and retention and community relations. She is an associate professor of accounting and has served as the director of the Professional Program in Accounting (PPA) at Mays since 2008.

Cynthia Devers, Associate Professor of Strategic Management and a Mays Research Fellow, Mays Business School – Devers is also an International Research Fellow at the Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation and an outgoing Associate Editor of Academy of Management Review. In her research, she draws on behavioral decision and social psychological perspectives to examine the roles formal and informal governance mechanisms and social evaluations play in individual, group, and organizational behavior and outcomes. Her work has been published in strategy and management journals, including Strategic Management Journal, Academy of Management Journal, Organization Science, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and Journal of Management.

Renee Schroeder, Senior Vice President, Advisor Services Technology, Schwab Advisor Services – Schroeder is responsible for development and maintenance of the Advisor Services products and websites. This includes Schwab Advisor Center, Schwab Retirement Center, and Schwab Institutional. Before joining Schwab, Schroeder worked for USAA, where she led applications development, systems maintenance and customer support for USAA’s Brokerage & Mutual Funds; Institutional Trading; Life, Health, and Annuities; and Wealth Management systems. She earned a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M University.

Susan Rudd Bailey, M.D., Fort Worth Allergy – Bailey is an allergist and immunologist from Fort Worth, Texas, and the Speaker of the American Medical Association House of Delegates. Dr. Bailey brings an impressive record of involvement in organized medicine and is a recent past president of the Texas Medical Association (TMA). In 2016, she was recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus of Texas A&M University.

Deb Merril, President and Co-Chief Executive Officer, Just Energy Group Inc. – As the President and Co-Chief Executive Officer of a growing global energy company, Merril applies her passion for raising the bar to delivering forward-thinking solutions and progressive product and service options as a trusted energy advisor for customers across geographical lines. She holds an MBA and a master’s degree in economics from Mays Business School.

 

Categories: Alumni, Mays Business, News, Texas A&M, Women's Leadership Initiative