When I first saw Daria Burke speak, I was immediately enthralled by her. The newly-appointed CMO of JustFab, Burke emanated a powerful presence and connected deeply with the audience. Having recently switched my major to Business Economics, I was eager to chat with her after the event. I wanted to learn how she crafted a career on her terms that included a range of start-ups and global corporations at the intersection of fashion and beauty brand marketing and digital technology.
What started as a coffee chat nine years ago has blossomed into a wonderful friendship. I can count on Daria as a guiding voice on my personal board of directors. As a fellow first-generation college-educated woman, I viewed Daria as an accessible role model. Like her, I set out to also earn an MBA as it proved to be a pivotal step in her career path that I wanted to follow.
WOMEN’S BUSINESS ASSOCIATION FOSTERS COMMUNITY
With these goals in mind, Kellogg became my choice because of its rising female enrollment and resources. Kellogg was also the first top business school home to a female leader: Dean Sally Blount. Plus, I was excited to join the Class of 2020 with near gender parity at 46%. Kellogg is a place where women are thriving as leaders of student clubs, winners of pitch competitions, and in key administrative positions across campus. I have used my time here as a leadership laboratory to take on opportunities to sharpen my personal style and apply concepts from coursework.
For example, the Women’s Business Association (WBA) is one of the largest clubs on campus and I’m fortunate to serve as VP of Partnerships and Intersectionality. In this role, I have the opportunity to foster meaningful partnerships with stakeholders across campus to amplify women’s voices and diverse experiences. For example, we’ve hosted a movie screening of The Farewell, discussed f filial piety across cultures with the Greater China Club, and co-hosted environmental and LGBTQ activist Precious Brady-Davis with Pride at Kellogg. Our committee actively seeks opportunities to amplify women’s voices and broaden student perspectives.
Historically, WBA has hosted a Women’s Business Week in March to align with Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. This year, we took the mission of building a supportive community of women that drives critical conversations to heart. As a result, we rebranded the week as Gender Equity Week. The name change helped signal our intent to open our events to include men and students of all gender identities and expressions, as well as women who may hold their racial, ethnic, national, or religious identities closer than their gender.
“WHAT MORE CAN I DO TO HELP?”
Additionally, the programming of this year’s event was designed to highlight universal topics that impact all of us as future business leaders, but especially women when navigating an ambitious career. These included a power couple panel featuring alumnae and professor pairings, a conversation with a fertility specialist and female founder in the space, and a lunch-and-learn with tools for modern love for all regardless of who and how they love. Almost every event was co-hosted with another group on campus to include an intersectional perspective with support from affinity clubs or discussions on the business implications with support from industry clubs.
It has been exciting to witness the warm reception from students, faculty, and administrators who are joining in on the critical conversations. In many cases, we had reached them for the first time and they walked away asking “what more can I do to help?” For example, I had the privilege of hosting an event titled “The F-Word: Unpacking Feminism and Related Terms.” I wanted attendees to understand how feminism could be viewed as a “dirty word” depending on the context. To counter that, I brought in a scholar to talk about the history of the different movements and the difference between radical, liberal, and intersectional feminism today.
At the end of the session where we filled out a sheet of vocabulary terms, we opened up for questions. The first two participants were both male classmates. The first one asked where to turn to continue learning and the other asked how he can get involved in the movement without taking up space where women should lead. It was encouraging to have sparked interest and immediate follow-up action following the event.
MAKING AN IMPACT THROUGH WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP SEMINAR
Outside WBA, our student-led programming is only strengthened by programs driven by the administration. For example, we had our annual Women’s Leadership Seminar in January 2020. This event shows us how to leverage our key learnings from Kellogg to launch our careers. WLS serves as a capstone course with an all-star lineup of female faculty members, industry experts, and alumni who recently navigated the same challenges and decisions we discuss each session.
For example, I learned a new way to think about the challenges we may encounter at each stage of our career and how we can deliberately develop our strengths. Through the sessions, I understood the value of maintaining a group of supportive friends who are in similar life stages to celebrate your success and uplift you in your temporary failures. One of the most powerful sessions was hosted by Prof. Suzanne Muchin on “Developing Your Voice.” She helped us think of our personal brand not as something that’s manufactured or put on, but as the promise we deliver on every time we show up and the unique POV we put forward. She pulled a classmate from the audience for a two-minute casual interview. Then, she asked those who didn’t know the student to share what we knew about her promise and POV (aka brand) from that introduction. The lesson: you don’t have to wait until you’re a famous leader to have a discernible brand.
The WLS conversations sparked during the three-hour weekly sessions spilled over into social gatherings, class discussions, and talks with loved ones as we wrestled with the reality of challenges women face in business. However true, I continue to be inspired by the resilience and courageousness of my classmates. Some buck cultural norms in their home countries to advocate for themselves and others, while others defy social pressure to launch start-ups to maximize impact over investment returns. Through my experiences, I believe our class is more prepared than ever to navigate the reality of the enduring legacy of a male-dominated business world and irrevocably change it for the next generation of women leaders.
Experiencing WLS together provided a shared language for all of us to reference as we face new challenges like those in front of us now. Social distancing measures are forcing all of us to adapt to new personal and professional interactions. WLS is top-of-mind in thinking through new considerations such as using time spent inside to deliberately develop ourselves using the growth mindset and how we empathize with and support the needs of caregivers who tend to be women. Through WLS, I connected with new classmates and deepened my relationships with others. I continue to find comfort in the Kellogg community through small acts of kindness and virtual connections to bring us together while apart.
Rianne Webb is originally from the Washington D.C. area and attended Brown University. She is currently a second-year in the 2Y program at Kellogg School of Management. Prior to business school, she worked as a CPG brand manager and is excited to bring her customer-obsessed perspective into her post-MBA role in strategy at a big tech firm in San Francisco.