Three women leaders from global organizations shared their stories in a panel discussion entitled “Women Executives in the 21st Century: Challenges and Opportunities” on October 11 at Saint Mary’s College and offered insights on surviving and thriving as a woman executive, building company culture, promoting diversity and taking risks.
Erin Flynn, senior vice president for talent development at Salesforce.com; Kris Snow (executive MBA '90), president of Cisco Capital; and Sarah Friar, chief financial officer at Square, shared their experiences in the business world. Beth Dobkin, SMC’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, moderated the discussion.
The panel, presented by Saint Mary’s School of Economics and Business Administration in partnership with Women in Philanthropy, attracted an audience that included graduate students, faculty, undergraduates and a handful of local women and men seeking advice for their business ventures. Each panelist brought a unique perspective to the table.
Sarah Friar, CFO at Square, a credit card payment service, shared her experience with company culture, advising the audience that “no detail is too small” when choosing a company. The “physical feeling” you get when you go to work is a powerful indicator of whether or not a company is the right fit for you, she said. When she goes into her own office, she said she feels as though she is “coming home.” Flynn shared a similar view, adding the feeling of “I belong here” to the list of requirements needed to find the perfect company.
The panelists also reflected on ways to build company culture through inclusion and diversity in our increasingly globalized business world. Snow noted that inclusive behavior that accepts differences of gender, time and style of work helps to attract employees. Flynn described the challenges her company faced in building a subculture in Japan when the company expanded abroad. Friar added that “great design” can also break down “language barriers,” an important consideration in her company’s products and services.
The most important question of the night, however, was “Why aren’t more women accepting leadership positions in the business world?”
Flynn said the problem is a “title issue,” explaining that there are women leading companies but they do not always ascribe to the title of Chief Executive Officer that is necessary to move into higher leadership positions. Saint Mary’s Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Beth Dobkin added that it is a flaw in our “perceptual lens” that makes women appear “riskier” than men in the business world. Friar added, “We have to push others to take some risks” and choose women for executives positions.
The night ended on a note of encouragement and support when an SMC alumna shared her struggle with reentering the business world while being a mother. The panelists suggested that she seek out mentors to assist in her career.
Friar even shared a short list of her favorite types of mentors: the “aspirational mentor” who you can “silently stalk,” the cheerleader mentor who encourages you, the “sponsor mentor” within your own company who provides feedback, and a close mentor such as a family member or friend. Snow encouraged the SMC graduate by quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, who famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
The discussion was followed by a networking session, giving audience members an opportunity to meet the panelists and share their experiences.
Eleanor Eldredge ’02 said she found the event to be both “helpful” and “insightful,” especially “when you are in the workforce and you are trying to grow your own career.” Sandi Lindin ’09 said the “personal stories and anecdotes” shared by the panelists enabled a different kind a learning that “teaches you so much more than any other way of learning.”
By Liset Puentes ’15
View more photos of the event on Facebook.
View a photo recap video.
View the entire recorded session on YouTube.