Friday evening, the Smith Association of Women MBAs (SAWMBA) hosted its Executive Roundtable at Van Munching Hall in College Park, Md. Female students from different subsets of the MBA program (i.e. part-time, full-time, executive and undergraduate), alumnae, women executive coaches and faculty gathered to share business ideas, strategies and tips. Topics included work/life balance, resilience, salary negotiations, starting a small business, networking and human capital.
When I arrived at the event, I had no idea what to expect. I quickly found the few people I knew from a different cohort and spent a couple minutes catching up. Shortly after, Vice Dean Dr. Joyce Russell and SAWMBA President Courtney Clark briefly introduced the experts and the association’s board. The evening was divided into two sessions where attendees could meet with experts for approximately 45 minutes. I chose salary negotiations and starting a small business.
Dr. Cynthia Stevens led the roundtable discussion on salary negotiations, but surprisingly, we all gave each other advice. We also shared similar concerns. How do you ask for more money when competition is high and some companies are still recovering from hard economic times? Dr. Stevens told us not to look at salary negotiations as a zero-sum game, which is a male-oriented approach. Instead look at the entire package, including salary AND benefits, to find a creative solution. She also recommended that we find a development partner – someone who would hold us accountable and provide support. Knowing when to walk-away comes down to having a best alternative lined up, which doesn’t necessarily mean another job, but at least knowing what other opportunities are out there.
At the Starting a Small Business table, we spoke to Carol Graser, executive coach and owner of NextGen Leaders, and Mary Ann Wagner, the former owner of a supply chain management company. Both women agreed that the worst part about starting a small business was thinking about it – you just have to make the jump. Before doing so, however, it’s important to consider the financial aspects. How long can you live without a salary and health insurance? Graser not only saved for an entire year, but also visited every doctor and specialist before leaving her job at IBM to launch her company.
The event seemed to end too soon, and many of the attendees stayed afterward to talk about how to increase the number of opportunities different cohorts and programs have to interact. We each offer unique perspectives and can empower each other to reach our goals. While some may question the importance of organizations like SAWMBA or women-only MBA events, just keep in mind that in 2012, only 18 women CEOs made the Fortune 500 list. It’s energizing being surrounded by women who have the same dedication and drive as you.
The next powerhouse event, Women Leading Women, will be held on Friday, March 1, 2013. Smith School Alumna Kristen Welch, the senior vice president of global content operations at Discovery Communications, will talk about how she achieved success.
Stephanie Bostaph is the director of operations at Concepts, Inc., a small woman-owned communications firm in Bethesda, Md. She is a proud Mountaineer, West Coast Swing dancer and a first-year MBA graduate student at the University of Maryland.