Danah N. Bourislee, class of 2018 international business and finance double major at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, writes about the Women in Business Association (WBA) trip to the Harvard International Business Conference, Oct. 20-21, 2017.
The Harvard International Business Conference was hosted by the Harvard Women in Business organization. The event brought together Women in Business groups from all around the world to participate in workshops and gain insight from women leaders in the workforce today. The conference consisted of four guest speakers. Each came from different backgrounds and worked in different fields, from culinary to tech to private equity. Each of these inspiring women were able to speak about what it’s like to be a woman in business in each of their respective fields, and how they were able to overcome the challenges by fighting stereotypes and pushing the traditional boundaries of their industries.
Irene, a female entrepreneur behind urban Chinese food truck and restaurant Mei Mei, showed us her perspective on being a woman in the food industry. She explained to us the struggles that came with starting from scratch, but also further expressed the need to pursue something you love, even if there is risk involved. Irene’s values of community empowerment are really reflected in Mei Mei’s dedication to natural and locally sourced foods and the financial training program for all staff. At Smith, we are all about developing a global mindset and pursuing our passions. We believe that sharing Irene’s story with our members at WBA will encourage more Smith female entrepreneurs to step up and develop their business ideas, and approach any adversities with strength and confidence.
Cathy Zhou, general manager of UberEats Boston, brought up an interesting point in which we should consider our careers as either a ladder or a jungle gym. In the business world, everyone expects to enter a company and slowly rise each year, with a possible goal of becoming a manager. However, this idea is far too linear. She stressed that there will definitely be setbacks and drops in one’s career; we may rise to the middle-top of a firm, but then switch industries and find ourselves once again at square one. She guided us to accept imperfection in our careers, and reminded us that setbacks can lead to even higher climbing in the long run. Her advice reminded us that as women in the workforce, we should diversify our experiences and passions instead of focusing on a single career position in life. As we further our knowledge and increase our experiences, we are able to become strong female leaders with the ability to convey wisdom and advice to those around us, while also empowering ourselves.
Caroline Hastings, managing director at Bain Capital, listed out points for women to improve upon when presenting or interacting with professionals. It was inspiring to hear how Caroline learned to overcome stereotypes and pursue her passions in investment banking, a largely male-dominated field. Women often experience being “different” in the business world, but few people have the knowledge and courage to address exactly what is feeding this discrepancy. She stressed the fact that vocal tone and word choice can be the difference between a woman being perceived as weak and gaining respect in the corporate world. Caroline cautioned us to speak slower when presenting, as women tend to speak faster than men, don’t turn ends of statements into questions, and to stop apologizing when it is unnecessary. An important takeaway from Caroline’s presentation was to always be self-aware of our actions. Caroline encouraged us to be assertive in what we want in life and not be afraid to take ownership of our accomplishments.
In addition to the guest speakers, we also had the opportunity to work with representatives from SelfLeaders, a Stockholm-based firm designed at creating digital tools to help leaders identify, understand and apply their core values in the workplace. This experience highlighted the importance of establishing our foundational values and using them to grow our mindset in order to create meaningful impact and make effective decisions in our leadership positions. At Smith, we always highlight the importance of establishing values, but rarely are people proactive in implementing those values into everyday life. SelfLeaders challenged us to choose a new value to integrate into our lives every week in order to become a better version of ourselves. This is invaluable advice that we hope to bring to all Smith students to help them in their future careers. In the business world, a company may spend millions in pursuit of profits and expansion, however, without integration of core values, the culture and vision of a company would go nowhere.
All in all, this conference was an incredible opportunity. Beyond getting to represent Smith on the world stage, we were able to further our professional development. We worked to identify our values and build confidence, all while listening to the invaluable advice from four extremely diverse, yet prominent business women.
For more information about the undergraduate program at Smith, visit: http://www.rhsmith.umd.edu/undergrad