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Women Inspire at NYC Business Symposium
Women Inspire at NYC Business Symposium
Women Inspire at NYC Business Symposium

April 24, 2015

What do you get when you put 20 female students studying in the Sigmund Weis School of Business in a room with successful businesswomen at a chic Midtown hotel on Broadway? Pure inspiration!

In March, an alumni-funded trip to the Big Apple connected the students with alumnae who have traversed the business world and come out on top. Lauren Tishkevich, a first-year marketing and economics major from Brunswick, Maine, said, "The tools and skills I learned from this event will be widely applicable. It helped me gain confidence, get an early start on how to network, and learn a bit more about the professional climate in New York City."

Advice From the Top

Susquehanna University Trustee Mary Cianni was the first to take the podium and talk to the young women about her career and the lessons learned. Cianni, principal at Towers Watson, a global professional services company, cut her teeth in the business world at a time when it was rare to see a woman at the corporate conference table. But even now, she said, women only account for 4.8 percent of the CEOs at Fortune 500 companies.

So what did challenging the status quo teach her? Firmly in the camp that says leaders are made not born, Cianni told the students that to be a leader they need to find their "leadership voice." She encouraged them to be who they are and to be assertive in their identity. "It's the way we feel about ourselves that exudes confidence," she said. "Don't be intimidated. Occasionally, you have to stand up for yourself."

Connecting with and caring for your team should also be a top priority because "the better they perform, the better you'll look," Cianni added.

Having It All

"I do think you can have it all. I just don't think you can have it all at the same time," said Susan Smith Ellis, chief marketing officer for Getty Images and former CEO of Product (RED), the global marketing company founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver to raise money to fight AIDS in Africa.

Smith Ellis didn't set out with dreams of a star-studded career. She planned to be a book editor until she was 27, at which point she and her first husband were going to start a family-four children who they'd "dress in matching sweatshirts while vacationing at the Jersey Shore."

But as life would have it, plans changed and Smith ended up on a different path. "Careers aren't always linear," she told the women. "There's lots of ways to get where you're going."

The trick, she said, is to "never say 'no' to opportunities." Amid those opportunities, Smith Ellis, who took six years off to raise her two children to school age, proved that a woman can have a family and a highly successful career. She just needs to find balance between the two and understand that the scales will shift from one to the other over the course of her life.

Smith Ellis readily admits that, when she first stepped back into the work world, she thought she was "toast." But following her father's advice to face her fears and conquer them, she managed to climb her way to the top of her field. By staying open to opportunities, working her networks and not giving up, Smith Ellis went on to become one of the top marketers in the world.

Investing in Students

The Women's Leadership Symposium is the first of what business school dean Marsha Kelliher hopes will become an annual event. It was made possible by the support of Susquehanna alumni who raised money for the trip through a crowd-funding campaign in February.

A newly established fund created by Janet Fowler '68 Grey also supported the event. The Janet Fowler Grey Women's Leadership Fund supports experiential leadership opportunities for female students enrolled at Susquehanna University. The academic and cocurricular activities supported by the fund will be designed to help students "aspire to, prepare for and achieve positions of leadership in their careers and their community."

In addition, about two dozen alumnae who work in New York City generously gave of their time to meet with the students for networking events, roundtable discussions and office tours. Katie Farber '06 hosted a small group of students for a tour of the Silicon Valley-esque office of Initiative, the global marketing agency where she works as manager of talent acquisition. She said her decision to participate in the symposium was twofold.

"Even though I didn't study business in college, I ended up in the business world and I wanted the students to see ... what 'else' is out there besides the core business careers we tend to think of," said Farber, who studied English and journalism at Susquehanna. "Liberal arts and business backgrounds can form the basis for endless career paths, and what I recruit for-media/advertising-represents just one of them."

And for a young alumna faced with Manhattan's cost of living, Farber said, "It's not so easy to monetarily give back to SU.

"However, volunteering like this is a good way to still stay connected and is something I am able to afford-my time."

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