Undergraduate student Shyama Srikkanth, class of 2019, environmental science & policy and operations management & business analytics double major, writes about the Women's Empowerment Institute's WEI TALK: BOSS(Y), held on November 7, 2018.
Women of the broader Smith community joined those of the Women’s Empowerment Institute (WEI) for Boss(y): Navigating Negative Stereotypes as Female Business Leaders on November 7, 2018. WEI hosted an engaging discussion about the negative perceptions women face in the workplace for being strong, assertive leaders. The talk provided a forum for diverse women to share their perspectives on being women of color in the professional world.
WEI was created in November 2017 as a ten-month program designed to empower cohorts of women from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds. It allows women to develop confidence in their leadership abilities, connect with current business leaders, and create a network of women within Smith with whom to share personal experiences and feedback.
The discussion was moderated by two members of the first WEI cohort, Alexis Moses, a junior marketing major and Spanish language, culture, and professional contexts minor, and Jacqueline Ndijb, a junior marketing major. The two women generated conversation on a range of topics, from labels that women have been given by their colleagues, to dealing with microaggressions and conflicts in the workplace that stem from others’ lack of understanding. The pair shared videos that reflected how women are consistently criticized by society for exhibiting behavior that their male counterparts are praised for.
Over the course of the evening, the attendees shared insights that they have gained from internship or work experiences. A recurring theme was how the women feel a responsibility to educate their peers when they encounter bias. However, the women understood the importance of bridging the gap and building connections with those who may not necessarily share their worldview. A few men from the Smith Business Academy also attended and contributed their thoughts on how to be better allies for women in the workplace. The female Smith faculty present reminded the young women to support and encourage other women as allies to help shift the culture towards one of collaboration rather than competition. The young women also agreed that finding mentors and peers to build their support networks is crucial to their professional success.
“I think that we had a pretty good turnout and were able to engage everybody in the room. I’m also very happy that we had the men of the Smith Business Academy here, and it was great to have them. It was nice to see that there are those outside of WEI that are our allies who are willing to speak up and spread the word,” shared Moses.
“For me, the most beneficial thing about the event is building allies. Black and Latina women in Smith may not know where to find other women to talk to about these issues, and for me finding women of all backgrounds to talk with about such situations is helpful,” Ndjib echoed.
KeiAsia Coates serves as the CEO of WEI for the second cohort of women in the program. “I am really glad that we were able to have such a productive conversation with people from different backgrounds and getting to hear from the Smith faculty as well was great," shared Coates.