Insights from the Field: The Women of MBA@UNC: Part II


The following post is a recap of an MBA@UNC Women in Leadership webinar where current students and alumnae gathered to offer advice and share their experiences navigating today’s business environment.

Executive Director of MBA@UNC Susan Cates moderated the webinar and she was joined by:

  • Student Erica LeBlanc, of Washington D.C., Operations Development Manager at Thomson Reuters.
  • Alumna Lindsay Chason, of Atlanta, GA, Retail Merchant at The Home Depot.
  • Student Michelle Middleton, of Clinton, NJ, Senior Vice President at Chubb Corporation.
  • Alumna Christy Brown, of Raleigh-Durham, NC, District Sales Director at Glaxosmithkline.

You can find more information about the webinar and its participants here, and part three of our recap can be found here.

What are some factors that helped you become a successful leader in your organization?

Michelle: My company has a very open and inclusive culture so it was not a gender issue for me, it actually was an issue of youth and experience at one time. You can't really fast track that experience. You need to earn it. We’re all very driven, otherwise we wouldn't be in this program. You want to move ahead as quickly as possible, but there is no fast lane and you have to earn your way through it.

Lindsay: For me, it’s important to move more in the direction where my personality fits better and my work ethic and my aggressiveness works well for the organization. It’s always about trying to find the right organization where I wouldn't be pigeonholed because of what I felt made me great, but rather rewarded for those things.

Erica: I knew I was going to have find opportunities to demonstrate my aptitude and capabilities. A way to fast track that is to get an MBA. That's really what drove me to get my MBA here at Kenan-Flagler so I can keep pursuing that. It makes it a lot easier when I have that accreditation. When I walk into a meeting I can easily say, “Yes, I have my MBA,” so they establish that you have the smarts. Then you take it upon yourself to add that motivation and add that persuasion to the mix.

Susan: I think that, man or woman, in business, having a management team that is supportive and is a good fit for you really makes all the difference. One of the things I wish I noticed earlier in my career is that you really cannot underestimate what kind of multiplier it is to have a great boss.

On being your authentic self:

Lindsay: It's tough, you really have to learn how to walk into the room, assess the audience that you're presenting to, assess what they need to hear, but at the same time be authentic with your message and how you present yourself. It's never easy and you're doing constant psychology work throughout your career to figure out how to play up the room no matter what room you're in.

Susan: If I couldn't go in and feel comfortable showing how I was and how I work and interact with people, then I wouldn't be effective in the organization. I knew that I needed to make sure I was impressing them in other ways while still being authentic and who I am.

Let’s talk a little bit about advocating for yourself and what's worked well and what hasn't worked well.

Michelle: I was promoted into a new job and got a brand new officer title in the company, but they did not give me the raise that goes with the officer title and I was really frustrated by that. It took me a little while to figure out how I was going to approach it and really it is a strategy. You have to sit down and think about your game plan, and launch your strategy. It's just like everything we’re learning. I had to seek out the information for the baseline salary and get over my fear of being too aggressive and assertive. It was one of those things where I really had to advocate for myself and it was a negotiation. I planned the negotiation, I anticipated the reaction, and I played it out over email and in person, reaching a successful conclusion.

Erica: I find that more opportunities to advocate for myself come when I partner with people I wouldn't normally partner with. Reaching out on a global level to some higher VPs and saying, “Hey, this is what I do well. I think it would be mutually beneficial if we come together and develop this project and execute this project.” It's mutually beneficial, but at the same time you're demonstrating your capability. I found that that works very well for me especially if you're not in that high visibility leadership role.

Lindsay: For me, I try to listen to myself when I talk and one thing that I’ve found myself doing is always talking about these great things that I accomplished as “we.” I started to sound like a crazy person, like who is this “we?” It's me! A lot of times, we as women try to reward the group, but it's OK for you to accept applause for yourself and to brag a little bit. I think we all tend to want to minimize how hard we worked, how difficult something was, what a big deal it was, and in turn, your boss isn't that impressed. You’ve minimized it to the point where you don't have an active role in the accomplishment. I’ve been working on taking credit for things that I executed. Don't take away from your active role in those successes.

On the importance of mentors:

Lindsay: Find mentors that know what you're good at and make you look like a rock star at all times. You already have the deck stacked against you sometimes, so find those people that like you and respect you and make sure you get on their calendar. You need that network and it's something you need to be working on all the time.

Christy: Make sure that you focus on connecting yourself with people that can be your advocate that can give you really honest feedback, both positive and negative, and help you proceed to grow and stretch yourself.

Susan: In the university environment, coming from investment banking, I can be a little aggressive. I report to the dean of the business school and our prior dean, Jim Dean, is a great friend and a great supporter and I’ve always said that he gets me and he likes me anyway. Now our current dean, Doug Shackelford, is the same way. He puts me in positions to do the things that I'm good at and minimize the things that I'm not good at. I think that's been critical to me being successful … they get me and focus on what my strengths are instead of trying to make me something I'm not.

Lindsay: It’s also important to mentor other women and bring them up the ladder with you. It's so easy for us to talk dirty about other women. We [can be] incredibly critical of ourselves and of other women. It's important to stop that. Stop being negative to other women. If you truly feel that someone is embarrassing themselves, pull them aside and talk to them, try to counsel them, because it brings the group average up.

To read the introduction and Part III of the webinar, click the links to the blog posts below.

Women in Leadership Webinar: Part I

Women in Leadership Webinar: Part III