Business schools across the country have struggled to attract female students. Here at the David Eccles School of Business we align with national trend as just over 34% of women fill our classes.

For the past decade, much research has been done on this subject and how to further bridge the gender gap. It seems that, to a large extent, it was a self-fulfilling cycle and according to some female graduates, business has always been viewed as a man’s world.

Recently, I had a chance to speak with Jill Taylor, businesswoman and President of KeyBank in Utah. In her role as President of KeyBank, Taylor knows what it’s like to be the only woman in the boardroom. As a member the Utah Bankers Association, Taylor remains one of the few women among the association. Yet, she doesn’t see that as a detriment knowing that she brings a unique perspective and has a track record to prove her success.

My most pressing question, knowing how difficult it is for women to succeed in business, was how does a communication major become the president of a bank? Taylor, like many of us, says she had a vision of what she wanted to do with her life. She spent time at local television stations after graduation until she and her husband decided to start a family. When she made the choice to come back to the workforce, she wanted to explore positions that would allow her more reliable hours to balance time with her family. It was her previous work as a part-time bank teller that led her into the world of finance.

She went back to work and took an entry-level position at a local bank, but she soon found herself applying for an administrative position. Taylor says, “Banking is not just about the numbers, but about people and how you connect with them whether educating on policy and regulation changes, or motivating them to take action.” Taylor’s willingness to fully engage in every position has been one of the driving factors in her ability to climb the career ladder. In fact, it’s this kind of hard work that Taylor advises all graduates to invest in order to succeed. Sometimes starting at the bottom and proving yourself is the best way to launch a career.

Taylor says if she had it to do again, she would definitely get a business degree in addition to her degree in communication. “Business principles transfer to all avenues whether it’s small business, non-profit organizations, or large businesses.” She adds that the degree is well rounded and provides exposure to a lot of different areas from entrepreneurship to hospital administration. Those with business degrees understand the bigger picture because they’re exposed to real life, practical applications through mentors and case studies, which make them more ready to handle strategic and tactical changes wherever they work.

Taylor advises women to avoid some common pitfalls as they pursue a career in business:

  • Don’t second-guess yourself.
  • Be yourself.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others; instead look at the strengths you bring to the position.
  • Be humble and put in hard work no matter what the position happens to be.
  • Remove the guilt because each woman has her own personal choices to make about working outside the home or not. There’s no right or wrong answer, only what’s best for themselves and their families.

However, these guidelines are not exclusively limited to women in business, they’re guidelines for anyone interested in having a successful career. Even in today’s tough economic times, she encourages all business students to stay positive. “Everything will work out if you work hard, have a positive attitude, and look for the silver lining.”

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