USC Marshall held its third annual International Women’s Day event Thursday, Feb. 28 in the Davidson Conference Center on USC’s University Park Campus. Attended by students, faculty, staff, alumni and other guests, the event featured roundtable and panel discussions on topics of interest to women in business.
“The energy in this room is remarkable,” noted USC Interim President Dr. Wanda Austin in her opening remarks. “It is inspiring. Thank you for being a part of this International Women’s Day celebration. It is a wonderful moment to reflect on where we have been, and where we want to be.”
The Bottom Line
Although it has been proven that society is smarter when it embraces diversity and inclusion, she said, the goal is not yet a reality, and the leadership necessary to make it so is still evolving. Dr. Austin referenced a comment made at the 2018 World Economic Forum by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pointing out that gender parity in the workplace isn’t only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do, as it directly impacts the bottom line.
“Including everyone in the economy could add $1.75 trillion to the United States’ GDP,” she said, citing official figures. “The question we should therefore be asking ourselves, is, ‘why not gender parity in the workplace?’”
She congratulated the Marshall School for its strides in leveling the playing field, including becoming the first top-20 business school to reach gender parity in its full time MBA class of 2020.
“The world is looking for something more, and it’s called leadership" --Mary O'Hara, chief human resources officer and SVP of internal communications for Blue Shield of California
“My advice to each of you is to fight on!” The standing-room only crowd cheered.
The Realities in the Room
The panel, “From FIRST and FEW to the NORM,” included Elissa Fink MBA ’93, former chief marketing officer for Tableau, the data imaging software; Renee Fraser Ph.D. ’81, founder and CEO of Fraser Communications; Christa Steele OMBA ’18, former president and CEO of Mechanics Bank; and Jacqueline D. Woods MBA ’93, Chief Marketing Officer, IBM Global Business Partners.
In a wide-ranging discussion moderated by Jessica Schleder MBA ’19, the women executives talked about early challenges they faced and how they handled unconscious bias in the workplace.
“Being short and blonde, there were many times in my career when I walked into the room and was mistaken for the secretary. That was until I spoke, and then they realized they had to take me seriously." said Fraser, to nods in the room.
“You have to own that room” Steele agreed. “You have to command that room when you walk in the door.”
Trusting your intuition is equally important, panelists agreed. “Women often feel that they must ask others “what do you think?’ when making a business decision, even in the C-suite. But you have to learn to trust yourself,” said Fink.
The women spoke about practicalities, such as how to manage both family and professional goals. All agreed it was important to choose a partner who values your career, is encouraging and supportive. “It’s critically important to have that conversation sooner rather than later,” suggested Woods. “You both have aspirations. What happens if your career takes off and you start to earn more?”
For the afternoon roundtable discussion, Professor Violina Rindova, Captain Henry W. Simonsen Chair in Strategic Entrepreneurship, Director of Research for the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and professor of management and organization led attendees through a design thinking exercise.
Each table worked as a group to reflect on a meaningful risk in the context of one’s career aspirations, education or other contexts. Through partner interviews, participants understood these challenges and the table worked together to reframe the problem they wanted to solve. Each group brainstormed to come up with an array of solutions, which they then shared with the room.
The Final Word
Mary O’Hara, chief human resources officer and SVP of internal communications for Blue Shield of California gave the closing keynote speech. She was introduced by James G. Ellis, dean of the Marshall School.
“Mary has been named one of the most influential women in California, but I would say she is really one of the most influential people in California,” said Ellis. “We are privileged to have her here.”
O’Hara opened her remarks encouraging everyone in the room to, “Spark your belief in your own possibilities and the extraordinary power you have over that. You really can achieve that vision of you.”
She then focused on leadership. “The world is looking for something more, and it’s called leadership,” she said.
“The way to become a great leader is to commit to that vision of you, and work at it as if it were already true,” said O’Hara. “Whatever work you do, make it matter. Ask yourself, ‘Am I showing promise, purpose and potential.’ ”
The third annual International Women’s Day event was hosted by women leaders at Marshall, including Suh-Pyng Ku, vice dean for graduate programs and professor of clinical finance and business economics, and Nandini Rajagopalan, vice dean for faculty and academic affairs, Joseph A. DeBell Chair in Business Administration, and professor of management and organization, as well as by the Marshall Graduate Women in Business (GwiB).
Event co-hosts also include (in alphabetical order): Tereza Alexandre, senior research associate; Baylis Beard MBA ’19; Catherine Binderwald, chief information officer; Judith Blumenthal, professor of clinical management and organization; Sandra Chrystal, vice dean for online learning and professor of business communication; Valerie Folkes, Robert E. Brooker Chair of Marketing and professor of marketing; Ayse Imrohoroglu, professor of finance and business economics; Sydney Kim MBA ’19; Debra Langford, assistant dean of diversity, equity and inclusion; Tracy L. Lawrence, consultant; Evie Lazzarino, associate dean for communications and marketing; Sharoni Little, associate dean and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer and professor of clinical business communication; Shirley Maxey, assistant vice dean for academic affairs and professor of clinical accounting; Gohar Palanjian, senior associate director of alumni initiatives; Marion Philadelphia, chair of the Department of Business Communication and professor of clinical business communication; Dawn Porter, professor of clinical data sciences and operation management; Violina Rindova, Captain Henry W. Simonsen Chair in Strategic Entrepreneurship, director of research for the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and professor of management and organization; Jessica Schleder MBA ’19; Helena Yli-Renko, director of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, Orfalea Director’s Chair in Entrepreneurship and professor of clinical entrepreneurship; Anne Ziemniak, assistant dean and director of the full-time MBA program.