Women make up 57 percent of all college students and about half of all law and medical students. They also earn 60 percent of all master’s degrees. So why is it that less than one quarter of our state legislatures, governors, Senators and House Representatives are women? Even more harrowing is that there are nearly 66 million women in the workforce, while just 4.2 percent make up the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies today.
“These statistics are exactly why we need to prepare the next generation of women leaders,” said Bronwen Bares Pelaez, Women’s Center associate director. “FIU is one of the best training grounds for leadership skills and we make sure to connect our students with mentors and role models while they develop their own leadership journey.”
The Women’s Center Women Who Lead conference celebrated its 8th year on March 24-25, connecting nearly 500 FIU students, faculty, staff and community members with some of the most influential women leaders in our community today.
Here are the top 5 takeaways:
Networking leads to opportunities
If you’ve ever complimented another person’s haircut, outfit or choice of cereal at the grocery store, you’ve networked! Within your own classes or office, you likely have a network (even if you don’t recognize it as such). While it may not seem important, networking is what can make or break your ability to get ahead.
“Take every opportunity, with every individual you meet, to network,” recommended Allakey Francis, founder of Impressions Imagine Consultants. Building a network helps connect you with others who share your passion, can create internship or job opportunities and identify mentors who are already in leadership roles.
Men and women have the same career goals, but not the same challenges
We’ve heard the term, “think like a man” when it comes to dealing with difficult coworkers or negotiation tactics. But is that good advice? “If we don’t think of ourselves in leadership positions, how do we ever get there?” asked Shirlyon McWhorter, director of Equal Opportunity Programs and Diversity. McWhorter said everyone should be respected for whom they are and advised women to act like who they want to be. Take it from Beyonce, she said, don’t fear being called “bossy.”
Know and fight for your worth
Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination based on sex, women are still earning less than their male counterparts. “Society teaches us gender roles from birth,” Professor Kimberly Taylor said. “We tell girls to wait and teach boys to go out to get things.”
Could this be the reason most women feel uncomfortable asking for a raise? One year out of college, women earn 80 cents on the dollar compared to men. As the years go on, the gap widens and can result in a $1 million difference over the course of your life. Taylor advised students to negotiate starting with their very first job, on which future raises and salaries will be based. “Know your priorities and values before walking into a negotiation meeting,” she said. But the key is asking for the meeting in the first place.
“If you can’t find a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.”
Donna Brazile served as the keynote speaker for both campuses at the WWL conference. Through touching anecdotes, jokes about Miley Cyrus and occasional southern drawls, she reminded the audience of women’s role in helping to lead our country. “We’re not telling men to leave the room,” she said, “just scoot over.”
Brazile noted that American history doesn’t belong solely to the men of this country, but women have contributed greatly to its accomplishments. She said following in the footsteps of Billy Jean King, Shirley Chisholm, Martha Griffiths, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Janet Reno and Carrie Meek, let us not be afraid to throw our gloves into the ring.
Brazile also reminded the audience that when we’re walking out the door, be sure to leave it open so other women can come in after us.
Map your leadership journey
When we’re done figuring out what we love, who we’re fighting for and how we want to change the future, it’s time to sit down and make a plan for it to happen. After all, women know most opportunities don’t fall straight into their laps. Writing a resume, taking an internship position, meeting with a mentor, or building an organization are all steps that will lead you farther down your leadership path. Though the road often has little direction and no set finish line, it’s helpful to know where you’re headed.
Brazile put it quite simply: “Plan early, set realistic goals, plot a route for the dream you wish to accomplish. I’ll share the stage with you, the table, even my gumbo.”