More than 200 female leaders from across the state met together on March 27 for this year’s David Eccles School of Business Executive Education Elevate U Women’s Symposium. A powerhouse line-up of women shaping Utah’s business landscape offered relevant, inspiring advice to women on how to craft their legacy and accelerate their careers in leadership positions.
The Elevate U keynote speaker, Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies and Chair of the Board of Directors of Larry H. Miller Management Corporation, spoke to a sold-out auditorium, along with Dr. Ruth Watkins, Dr. Beatrix Dart, Dr. Jennifer Cummings, Dr. Laura Wellman, and Andrea Thomas, in a day filled with academic sessions and discussions. Here are five of the key takeaways from the messages shared by this inspiring group of women.
1) Think about the legacy you want to create
The speakers charged the participants with thinking about the legacy they want to create. Gail Miller shared that a key to her success was identifying her values early on. Her values of hard work, integrity, service and stewardship shaped her own decision-making and solidified her business culture around a clear vision. “We need to prepare for the future,” Miller said. “When John F. Kennedy said, ‘We want to go to the moon,’ you know he didn’t know how to do it, but they knew where they were going. My personal brand is looking to the future.”
Dr. Beatrix Dart, Executive Director of the Initiative for Women in Business at the Rotman School of Management shared research that about what women wished they could tell their younger selves. Many wish they had been deliberate early on in their careers about identifying the legacy they wanted to have in their lives and careers. “Set life goals and revisit them often,” Dart said. “Your legacy isn’t what people say when you are gone; legacy is also what people say about you when they walk past your office.”
2) Take initiative and aim to be solution-oriented at work
Another resounding theme of the conference was the importance of hard work and being solution oriented. Watkins, whose first day as the first female president of the University of Utah was April 2, spoke about working as a lifeguard in her youth, saying, “I realized a lot of effort was put into trying to avoid work … Don’t put off your work.”
During a panel discussion featuring four successful women from varying backgrounds and industries, many mentioned the importance of doing the work to advance your career. Brigadier General Christine Burkle, Commander at the Utah Air National Guard, said, “Do what you say you’re going to do and don’t over promise.” Megan Tuohig, Vice President of People Care at Overstock.com, spoke about getting a promotion by being proactive: “I succeed by consistently taking initiative … If you can take initiative and prove to be successful, you will get it.”
3) Act as your own advocate
Women were encouraged to advertise their own value at work. Andrea Thomas, Professor (Lecturer) of Marketing at the David Eccles School of Business, taught participants how to identify their own personal brand by asking themselves, “What do I do that adds remarkable value? Do I develop people? Can I deliver results over and over? How am I building my story and brand?” Dart presented similar research advocating for women to develop their business acumen and become more confident at taking risks. She said, “Ask if you want someone to notice your work or see you for a promotion. Be proactive.”
The necessity for women to openly communicate their aspirations and visions to partners and co-workers was repeated several times throughout the day. Dart said, “It is important for you to clearly communicate what you want to become in your organization because as a woman, they will make assumptions about you. You must articulate and push for what is you want!”
In discussing negotiating a raise the same applies; according to Rebecca Dutson, Senior Director for United Way Worldwide, “There’s no harm in asking. Think about your case, put it together, and do it.” Attributing her business success to her ability to communicate her vision, Gail Miller also stated the importance of communication. She said, “Don’t be afraid to share with others what you are doing. Don’t be small. “
4) Make time for self-reflection and be authentic to yourself
Many speakers stressed the value of women being their authentic selves. Cummings emphasized that you have to like yourself and enjoy working with yourself in order to create a legacy others want to be a part of. She offered scientifically proven strategies of effective self-reflection: keep a gratitude journal that you write in each night before bed, write letters to friends and family to reduce depression, create time for reflection, and before a stressful situation, take a few minutes to remember your values.
In addition, she encouraged women to stop obsessing over being liked, saying, “We spin our wheels to our peril to be liked, but we can’t always be liked. You can be the juiciest peach on the tree and some people still don’t like peaches.” Cummings advocated rethinking comparison. Instead of focusing on guilt and what you lack compared to others, she challenged women to see others’ successes as a reminder of what is possible.
Miller emphasized the importance of being proud of your value, saying, “Inventory your own talents and don’t try to be someone you are not.” During the panel, Dutson also championed authenticity saying, “Be true to who you are and then make choices that align with it.”
5) Bring men into the conversation
While much dialogue centered on career advice, the conference also addressed the challenging realities of the advancement of women in business. Dart reminded participants that, “This problem is not about fixing women. You are not the problem! You are perfect! … If you really want to change advancement of women, you have to go to a higher level. You have to change society.”
There are real challenges for women in business, but there is an immense financial benefit for corporations and the world as women move into leadership roles. Many speakers emphasized that as women continue to grow and seek these roles, there will need to be greater buy-in from decision-makers, CEOs, corporations, and governments to address women’s advancement. While Dart acknowledged that systems of power make it challenging to address the problem at a societal level, she offered a simple word of advice: “I think the biggest key to solving this problem is to bring men into the conversation.”
Overwhelmingly, women were encouraged to communicate openly with their male colleagues and bosses, build trust, treat everyone with respect and lead by example.
Elevate U Women’s Symposium participants felt empowered and inspired by the advice they were given to advance their careers and legacy. One participant said, “I had an inspirational, amazing day! I left with actionable items that I can use in my personal and professional life. I was on a high as I left feeling like I could conquer the world.”
The University of Utah David Eccles School of Business is committed to the professional and personal advancement of women, and we look forward to next year’s Elevate U Symposium. For more information about the 2019 event, please visit ElevateUtahWomen.com.
In addition, Executive Education Women’s Leadership Program classes are held throughout the year, with topics ranging from collaborative negotiations to mastering public speaking. For more details, visit our website now.