Bowdoin Women in Business, a student organization led by Phoebe Happ ’14 and Tasha Yektayi ’15, recently invited five successful women to campus to participate in a panel on female leadership and provide insights into the business world.
The panelists included professionals at different points in their careers. It included a 2013 Bowdoin graduate and a high-ranking official who worked in President Obama’s cabinet. The panelists were Karen Mills, former administrator of the Small Business Administration; Paula Volent, Bowdoin’s senior vice president for investments; Trisha Bauman ’84, CEO and founder of TJBauman; Lucy Orloski ’06, marketing director of Localytics; and Dani Chediak ’13, human resources coordinator at Isaacson, Miller and former Bowdoin Student Government president.
The five panelists offered quite a bit of practical advice, such as how to project confidence and how to ask your boss for help. Bauman, who runs an executive coaching firm in New York City, also gave a demonstration of effective interview techniques.
In the course of the discussion, a couple of the panelists admitted they did not start out in business, turning this into a lesson for the students. For 20 years Bauman was a professional dancer, performer and coach. Volent began her career as a conservator, restoring works of art at national galleries. Now, a head of Bowdoin’s investment team, she oversees the College’s endowment. She stressed the importance of being “open to opportunities that come.”
Mills echoed Volent’s sentiment. “You never know where the path will lead you, but the things you pick up along the way will be very valuable,” she said.
Several of the panelists spoke about their experiences in fields still dominated by males. A tendency of women who feel outnumbered can be to band together, causing them to miss out on important relationships with men that could be beneficial to their career. “Don’t necessarily gravitate toward what is more comfortable,” Bauman said. “Diversify your network.”
Running through the panel was the theme of workplace issues particular to women. Chediak noted that women at times makes the mistake of shying away from “difficult conversations,” such as asking for increased compensation. “Be happy with the opportunities you get coming out of college, but also know what you can ask for,” she said. When she got her first job, Chediak requested a starting bonus to assist with moving costs. Mills added that women are less inclined to ask for pay increases than men, and advised members of the audience to request a six-month review that is tied to a conditional salary increase.
Mills encouraged students to follow their passion, even if that might lead to a job where they are surrounded by men. “Pick the place that is right for you, and once you find it, don’t second-guess yourself,” she said. “If the place you find has more guys than girls, well, hopefully the guys feel as comfortable as you do.”