Last Thursday, the Eli Broad College of Business hosted its biannual Advancing Women in Business event to highlight and empower women in business. Held at the James B. Henry Center for Executive Development, the event focused on connecting alumni, recent graduates and current students for their mutual professional development and growth.
Beyond serving as a great opportunity for networking, the evening featured a panel discussion with successful and inspiring Broad alumnae who are leaders of business: Dianna Dryer, who earned an Executive MBA in 2006 and is now CFO of Toyota Industries; Adrienne Petersen, who graduated with an MBA in 2006 and currently serves as principal for human practice at Deloitte Consulting; and Jenee Velasquez, who completed an Executive MBA in 2004 and is the executive director of the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation.
Cheri DeClercq, assistant dean of MBA programs, began the panel discussion by explaining the purpose of the gathering. “Women are busy,” DeClercq said. “We have a tendency to juggle home, family and work, and whatever time we have free, we take for ourselves. We need to devote that time for other women.”
The theme of the night was undeniably mentorship. The idea of being a mentor to others frequently came up in questions from attendees and the answers provided by the panel.
Velasquez spoke on the importance of knowing that everyone has insight that will be helpful, whether they realize it or not. “Be a mentor; you are an inspiration to someone,” she said.
A question to the panel asked how to navigate a situation in which a coworker is actively trying to sabotage your position or halt your progress. Petersen gave a cut-and-dried solution: don’t get involved. “Always take the high road and don’t engage in that type of behavior,” she said.
Velasquez agreed. “Find the folks that support you, disregard the ones that don’t,” she said.
Dryer also agreed and explained how detrimental this type of behavior is for everyone involved. “Women have to help women,” she said.
Dryer also heavily advocated for not only being a mentor but also having a mentor. She explained that her biggest supporter throughout her career has been one of her first mentors, a relationship that started 25 years ago. Dryer said her mentor kept her from quitting her job after having her first child, and even today, that mentor is the first person she calls with good news.
A question in the later part of the discussion further touched on women knowing their worth and claiming their voice. Dryer, Petersen, Velasquez and DeClercq all admitted that at times, they haven’t given their opinion when it was necessary, and they offered advice on how to fight this urge to self-censor.
“What you’re saying is relevant, what you’re saying is valid and most importantly, if you’re confident in what you’re saying, they will listen,” Dryer said.
Velasquez built on this advice in the context of a boardroom. She compared how men and women sit at the table, describing women as more likely to have a desire to not take up space. “Own your space. You deserve a space at that table too,” Velasquez said.
In the final question for the panel, DeClercq asked what parting words of wisdom these leaders had to offer. Petersen began by saying, “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
Dryer encouraged women to not be ashamed of who they are. “Be yourself. Don’t ever try to be something that you’re not,” she said. “You will succeed as yourself.”
Velasquez spoke on the current climate of the industry, describing this as a particularly exciting moment for women. “With all the challenges we’re facing, there is no greater time for us as women to be a part of the industry,” she said.
DeClercq closed the panel with a short and sweet bit of advice: “Go for it. Whatever the ‘it’ is for you — just go for it.”