For once, professional titles didn’t matter for the 150 women attending the “Advancing Women in Business” event hosted by the Eli Broad College of Business on Tuesday, November 15. From non-profits to Fortune 500 companies, and from entry-level to the C-suite, attendees represented a diverse set of professionals, all with the same goal in mind: to invigorate their careers by engaging with like-minded professional women.

“Events like this bring an awareness to the perception of power in the workplace,” said Jenny Frisco, who works in corporate tax for Dow Chemical. “The challenge becomes to put into practice what you take away with you. I feel like I’m much more aware of how I’m perceived by others who might outrank me, and how I can empower myself through communication and assertiveness,” she said.

President Simon at Advancing Women in Business.

President Simon at the Advancing Women in Business dinner and roundtable discussion Tuesday, November 15, 2016, at the University Club in East Lansing, Michigan. Photo by MATTHEW DAE SMITH

It’s no secret that, in spite of their professional backgrounds, these 150 women face the same challenge as the broader female workforce: gender diversification. According to Women in the Workplace 2016, a comprehensive study of women in corporate America, 78 percent of companies report gender parity as a top priority for their CEO, but fewer than half of employees believe companies do what it takes to improve gender diversity. As such, engaging with fellow women to learn strategies to navigate the workplace proves an imperative part of their professional success.

Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon opened the event with a compelling, moving speech that gave the audience a rare glimpse into her personal challenges and perspectives on women in leadership. “Until we do a better job at having one another’s backs, we will never regain the power we lost,” she said.

“As a proud female alum of MSU who is recognized and supported in a senior role at a Fortune 500 company that truly embraces equality, listening to President Simon’s inspirational remarks brought to mind my journey, and how I navigated, and today work to champion, diversity across the spectrum, including gender diversity,” said Carol Britton, managing director and chief operating officer of corporate services. “I am also reminded of advice I offer to my mentees: ‘you can’t do it alone,’ and that includes your job, where you need to surround yourself with the best talent, and your career, where leveraging a strong and diverse professional network must be paramount,” she said

The main event featured a panel discussion with speakers Carol Britton, chief operating officer of corporate services for BNY Mellon; Elizabeth Door, vice president of North America procurement for Whirlpool Corporation; Lucinda Wright, marketing, sales, and strategy practices lead for JPG Resources; and was moderated by Julie Fasone Holder, CEO and founder of JFH Insights. The speakers discussed similar challenges they faced during their careers, sharing ways to leverage the collective power of women in business to inspire change.

Women in Business Audience.

The Advancing Women in Business dinner and roundtable discussion Tuesday, November 15, 2016, at the University Club in East Lansing, Michigan. Photo by MATTHEW DAE SMITH

Prior to the main panel, Holder shared a presentation to a smaller group of women on using negotiation skills to propel their careers. Women from the Broad Women MBA Association, Melody Buckley (MBA, Human Resources, ’17), Rose Glendinning (MBA Human Resources ’17), Mary Mays (MBA Supply Chain Management ’17), and Brittany Young (Marketing/Supply Chain Management ’17), spoke on an interactive panel discussing early-career strategies. “As any employee—but especially with women— you need to acknowledge that ‘good performance’ is just the bare minimum. You’re expected to do well in your career, but need to push yourself to take it a step further if you want that recognition,” Buckley, a second-year MBA student, said.

An underlying touch-point from all the women was the power of connections and supporting one another. “There’s something very powerful about having a network of women at work. When the opportunity presents itself, give your female colleagues credit to leadership. Listen and understand one another, and serve as advocates as you navigate the work force together,” Glendinning said.