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Campus and alumni activists attend 2020 Women’s Leadership Summit

By McKenzie Collins
Staff Writer

The School of Business hosted its tenth annual Women’s Leadership Summit via Zoom on Nov. 11. Students, faculty, alumni and other interested parties were invited to convene and discuss social constructs and a variety of topics relating to their experiences both within and separate from the workplace.

After an opening speech from President Kathryn Foster, keynote speaker Laura Huang prompted insightful dialogue through her knowledge of bias in the workplace. 

In addition to personal experience, Huang used her research of “interpersonal relationships and implicit bias in entrepreneurship and in the workplace” to engage the audience from another perspective.

Attendees participated in two workshops and breakout rooms for discussion (Photo courtesy of Nicole Beagin).

Huang, of the Harvard MBA class of 1954 and Associate Professor of Business Administration at her alma mater, created an online movement titled #FindYourEdge. The initiative advocates for equality within the workplace through self-care and empowerment. 

In her novel, “Edge: Turning Adversity Into Advantage,” she gives advice on how to be taken seriously within a patriarchal and discriminatory society. Huang’s analysis of scorn within the business sphere offers consolation to readers struggling with their expectations of themselves. Students can learn more about Huang’s initiative here

Following the remarks from Huang, attendees participated in two workshops: “How to cultivate and foster diversity and cultural responsiveness in your workplace” and “How to cultivate and foster diversity and cultural responsiveness in your personal life.” 

The workshop pertaining to the workplace was facilitated by Alberto Carbonilla, who teaches cross-cultural management at the College. 

Marvin Carter, the director of intercultural engagement and inclusion, expedited the workshop centered around the social sphere. Particularly, he spoke of systematic racism and how attendees can impede this discriminatory system within their own lives.

After converging for these conferences, attendees were directed towards one of several breakout discussions. Workplace discussions were led by Ivonne Cruz, the executive director of the Student Success & Retention department, and alumna Tamara Ibezim, vice president in the Global Risk Management Organization and an associate at Bank of America. These discussions were inspired by the challenges of working within the business field amid bias and discrimination.

Personal discussion facilitators included Chanelle Lester, MBA director of the College, and alumna Tammy Tibbetts, a member of the Board of Trustees and the co-founder and CEO of “She’s the First,” an organization invested in the preservation of a woman’s right to an education. 

In explaining her inspiration for the project that came to life only two years after her graduation from the College, Tibbetts elaborated, “When I started ‘She’s the First’ in 2009, I had become aware of startling statistics, like the fact that 130 million girls around the world are out of school. I knew the power of education to break down barriers in my own life. I was also influenced by the rise of social media and originally, ‘She’s the First’ was a social media campaign to raise awareness and funds.”

The organization has developed quickly over the course of the past decade. Now a multimillion dollar nonprofit company, its work has led Tibbetts to give multiple TED Talks, inspire her to write a book and contribute to the launch of the Global Girl’s Bill of Rights with partner organizations Akili Dada and MAIA. 

Reflecting on this growth, Tibbetts exclaimed, “It’s been a wild ride! When I look back on 11 years of ‘She’s the First,’ we have evolved and grown so much. Day to day, however, the steps are small and incremental. Building a nonprofit, like anything else, takes discipline and persistence to keep showing up and building on the previous day’s accomplishments.”

While at the College, Tibbetts was a member of the Circle K executive board, a community service-based organization, and was a staff writer for the Signal. Both of these experiences provided a foundation for her now substantial resume, especially as her first novel, “Impact: A Step-by-Step Plan to Create the World You Want to Live In” (written with co-founder Christen Brandt), hit shelves on Nov. 17.

“Over the past decade, I’ve been asked for advice on how to make a difference so many times, and it’s impossible for me to talk to everyone, let alone know what they are best suited to do. That’s because how you create impact in the world is such a personal discovery. ‘Impact’ walks you through how to identify what you have to offer and match it up with what the world needs,” Tibbetts explained.

In the meantime, the organization is fighting to combat the effects of Covid-19 on female students across the globe. According to the She’s the First website, there are currently an estimated 20 million girls at risk of losing their access to a stable education. 

Tibbetts explained, “‘She’s the First’ is mobilizing resources for our Covid-19 Repsonse Fund, which helps community-based girls organizations invest in interventions that are keeping girls in school (like feminist mentorship models, sexual health and reproductive rights education and providing food baskets to families to make sure basic needs are met). I encourage people to visit shesthefirst.org/covid to learn more.”

The productivity of raising awareness about social issues such as this is the cause for the organization of the original Women’s Leadership Summit in 2010. While the challenges for women in business have changed over the years, activists such as Tibbetts, Lester, Huang, Ibezim and Cruz are still fighting to close the disparity between the treatment of men and women within the workforce. 

In a word of guidance for those combating societal bias, Tibbetts advised studentsto be aware of the structural inequalities that exist in the workplace and in our society, and have open conversations about them. Even when those conversations may be uncomfortable. Once you are aware and have the language and facts to talk about these issues, it’s easier to take actions to share your power and privilege with others.”

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