Investing in Students
Recognizing a pattern of this behavior among the student body, Marsha Kelliher, dean of the Sigmund Weis School of Business, is intent on making the Women's Leadership Symposium an annual event. She is also developing a Women's Leadership Council that, among other things, will create a team of mentors to work with female students. Additional efforts are being explored campuswide, including individual and collaborative research projects aimed at educating the campus community about women and gender issues, cross-cultural programs focused on these topics, internship and assistantship opportunities for women, and student participation in leadership institutes and related academic conferences.
Initiatives such as these are exactly what Janet Fowler '68 Grey had in mind when she established a women's leadership fund at Susquehanna University earlier this year. The fund supports experiential leadership opportunities for female students enrolled at Susquehanna University. It is intended for academic and cocurricular activities, such as the Women's Leadership Symposium, that help female students "aspire to, prepare for and achieve positions of leadership in their careers and their community."
Grey became interested in women's leadership issues after spending much of her career in education, family counseling and nonprofit development, areas in which women were exhibiting skills that would lead to success in any field. Yet she saw substantial gender disparity in corporate settings.
"These were intelligent, creative, resilient individuals who made decisions and problem-solved on a daily basis, and held themselves accountable for outcomes. They could think strategically when setting goals and objectives. Networking and collaboration were crucial to accomplishing goals and objectives. In addition, the women I encountered tended to be supportive of each other, readily validating the efforts and successes of their colleagues," Grey says.
"Clearly, there are many women in today's workforce with leadership capabilities. Why then," she wondered, "in the highly competitive and results-oriented world of business is this significant resource so underutilized?"
It's a question that stuck with Grey through the years. Then, in 2003, she and her husband, Richard, purchased Genie Products Inc., a manufacturer of precision equipment for the thermal spray, or metallizing, industry. "I was definitely entering a field dominated by men," Grey recalls. And yes, there were occasions in which she experienced gender bias.
Despite being an equal partner with her husband in the business and holding the title of CEO, Grey noticed a disparity in the way people reacted to her and her husband. She initially noticed this in her interactions with potential service providers. "There was the subtle implication that I might not be qualified to make decisions [for the company]," she says.
However, the bias was most evident when Grey and her husband were both representing Genie Products at tradeshows or business meetings. "Although my knowledge of our product line and relevant application to customer requirements matched that of my husband's, inquiries were most often directed to Richard. If he was occupied and I offered assistance, individuals would defer and request to come back later to meet with Mr. Grey," she says.
"These experiences, although infrequent, were frustrating and annoying. Again, I considered the thousands of highly qualified women in corporate settings today who are forced to confront numerous barriers to career advancement in what continues to be a man's world."
She began exploring how business schools were dealing with the question of women and leadership. She read the findings of the Princeton Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women's Leadership, and noted that students who hold leadership positions as undergrads develop skills that enhance their opportunities for leadership roles in their careers.
Around this same time, Sandberg's Lean In was published—a book that, Grey says, convinced her "if women are to successfully acquire greater responsibility [in the workforce] while allowing themselves time for family commitments, they must first work to change the rules of the game."
Grey began thinking about what she might do to prompt change. In the fall of 2013, while on campus for her 45th class reunion, Grey had the opportunity to talk with Kelliher about her plans for a Women's Leadership Symposium. "I came away feeling very excited about efforts being made to expand educational, networking and mentoring opportunities for women in the business school," Grey says.
It was her chance to make a difference-she took a deep breath, hit the "up" button and didn't look back. Like any good leader, Grey is fixed on the possibilities to come.
"It is my hope that over the next two decades, leadership in corporate America will be far less homogeneous," she says. "Helping female business students gain the skills and resources to advance in the current climate allows for a vision of what might be possible in the future. Positive change will not only benefit women in business, it will also benefit the corporations they will eventually lead."