Women’s summit: ‘You’re ready for this moment’

October 4, 2021

Wendy Clark asked for a show of hands.

“Anyone in the room ever been underestimated?” she asked.

Dozens of hands went up.

“Yes, we all have been,” she said, and she emphasized the anger it elicits.

“It is ‘game on’ when somebody underestimates you,” Clark said. “So do not get angry. Do not get dispirited. Someone has lowered the bar for you in their underestimation, and now you are going to crush it.”

Clark, global CEO of dentsu international, made her comments Thursday as keynote speaker at the first Summit for the Advancement of Women in Business.

Hosted by College of Business, the half-day event at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center gave Florida State University students the opportunity to meet and learn from professionals who find passion in supporting women in business.
The event was organized by Cassandra Cole, the Dr. William T. Hold Professor in Risk Management & Insurance and director of the college’s No. 1-ranked risk management and insurance program, and Samantha Paustian-Underdahl, an associate professor in the college’s Department of Management.

Students heard from Clark and six additional women executives – Colleen Dean Miller, senior VP and manager of the Funds Treasurer’s Office at PIMCO; Melanie Griffin, counsel at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick LLP and founder of Spread Your Sunshine; Illeanne Rukes, chief human resources officer at Rialto Management Group; Jennifer Durden, executive VP and CFO at the FSU Credit Union; Christina Casey, senior human resources manager at Danfoss; and Bethany Schenk, president and CEO of Web Benefits Design.

‘real-world opportunity’

Those women led 45-minute informational sessions on topics central to women students who aim to soon launch careers – strategic goals, networking, job offers, work/life management, corporate culture and office politics.

“What an event!” said Michael Hartline, dean of the College of Business, who introduced Clark at the summit. “We think we presented yet another life-changing educational and real-world opportunity for our students, and we thank Wendy Clark and all of the other hard-working and accomplished women who gave of themselves at this inaugural summit. They shared useful and compelling first-hand insights that will prove indispensable for this next generation of business leaders.”

Hartline added: “I told our speakers that if they were looking for talent, they needed to look no further than this summit. These are all talented FSU students who would be eager and happy to take an internship or fulltime employment. Through the help of our first-rate programs and globally recognized faculty, they’ll make everybody proud.”

The summit came about as data continued to reflect progress and stagnation for women in business. Paustian-Underdahl said during opening remarks that women now earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 60 percent of master’s degrees, up from 24 percent and 29 percent, respectively, in 1950.

She also said women now hold nearly 40 percent of U.S. management roles, up from about 15 percent in 1970.

Yet women represent only 28 percent of U.S. CEOs – and 8 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies, the latter of which Paustian-Underdahl called “pretty shocking.”

“It’s numbers like these that really led to today’s event,” she said Thursday. “In an effort to improve these numbers, our focus today is to provide our students with an opportunity to meet with and learn from business professionals who are passionate about supporting women in business.”

The power of belief

Clark, who graduated from FSU in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing, focused her talk on belief, bravery, betting on yourself and being underestimated.

She drew from her professional experiences, including as president of sparkling brands and strategic marketing for Coca-Cola North America. She recalled “whispers” she’d hear at Coca-Cola -- that the company gave her the job only because she was a woman.

“Where does that take me?” she asked students. It took her to a place of doubt, she said: “I don’t think I’m very good, right?”

Wrong. She would become Advertising Age’s Executive of the Year in 2017. Two years later, she found herself inducted into the New York-based Marketing Hall of Fame.

Yet the sources of those Coca-Cola “whispers” held lower expectations of her, she said.

“When you’re underestimated, you’ve got to use that as fuel,” Clark said. “You worked hard for this. You have a career. You’ve done the education. You’re ready for this moment.”

On belief, she said: “If you don’t believe it, I would say don’t fake it. Find somewhere you can join and be part of a company and strategy that you really do believe.”

On bravery, she said: “Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coca Cola (until 2017) for whom I worked, used to say you have to be constructively discontent. That’s where bravery comes in. You’ve got to be brave enough to call it. You’ve got to be brave enough to change it. You’ve got to be brave enough to know the comfort of what you’re doing is not going to be the path to succeed.”

On betting on yourself, she said: “If you don’t bet on you, why am I going to bet on you? If you sit in front of me for a job interview and you’re not confident about what you can do and what you want to do and where you want to go, I am going to read that right away. You have to bet on yourself. Be true to who you are and bet on that person.”

In response to a student’s question, Clark said: “I think people are more fixated with me being a woman than I am. … I have a job to do, and I try to do that job to the best of my ability.”

At the same time, she said, “I’m really comfortable with being in a room like this and showing all of you that you can do this job, too.”

From the Experts

Here are a few takeaways from breakout sessions led by women executives at the Summit for the Advancement of Women in Business:

Colleen Dean Miller, senior VP and manager of the Funds Treasurer’s Office at PIMCO: “I think you have to bet on yourself, and that’s in your toolbox -- yourself, your gut, your likes, your dislikes … Talk to somebody you trust. Ask a mentor, a professor, someone who knows your strengths. I think it’s important to know your strengths.”

Melanie Griffin, counsel at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick LLP and founder of Spread Your Sunshine: “If you can, you want to keep up your relationships … college professors or high school teachers. You don’t want to be in a situation where you need a letter of recommendation to graduate school and you haven’t talked to this person in 12 years. Ideally, you want to keep them in the loop.”

Jennifer Durden, executive VP and CFO at the FSU Credit Union: “If you’re looking for work-life balance, you’ve got to have a career that you’re passionate about. You’ve also got to have a home life that you enjoy, whether it be a hobby or a sport or your family, something that keeps you going and brings you joy. Choose a spouse who has common values and goals. … As you choose how you want to spend your time, you need to choose someone who is going to support that.”

Illeanne Rukes, chief human resources officer at Rialto Management Group: “We are in a labor market like we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. The talent wars are on. Employers are competing for candidates, so you’re coming into the labor market at the best time possible. This is what we call the great COVID churn; people having spent more time at home, introspecting, evaluating what’s truly important to them, has led people to make not just work changes but life changes.” She noted “a lot of opportunities but a lot of competition.”

Christina Casey, senior human resources manager at Danfoss: “Before the interview, visit the company’s website. They’ll tell you their mission, their vision, the things that are important to them. You can go to their careers page. They’ll tell you a lot about their people. Do they invest in their people? Do they care about their people? Do they value their people?”

Bethany Schenk, president and CEO of Web Benefits Design: “Never make an enemy,” because it can catch up to you later, perhaps at another job. “You can disagree with somebody. You can have different points of view. You can really dislike somebody, and they can maybe really dislike you. But you cannot make an enemy. You must learn to navigate the circumstances and allow dignity and disagreement.”

-- Pete Reinwald