Students are often the ones driving sustainability efforts on campus. Not only are they increasingly interested, but now are also outspoken and engaged in ensuring that relevant sustainability topics become part of their business school experience. Because of this, it is important that schools and faculty be prepared to support student initiatives and give them the opportunity to develop. At Slippery Rock University in the United States, two graduate students saw a need for a Centre focused on development of female business leaders and proposed the development of a new Centre on campus. I spoke with Professor Diane Galbraith, their mentor and faculty leader at Slippery Rock University.
What is the Women’s Business Centre?
As more female business students graduate from Slippery Rock University and other colleges around the world, they may find themselves unprepared for their future careers. Already at an unequal playing field with the current gender wage gap, women must consistently overcome obstacles in the world of business. These obstacles include pay differences, finding mentors, developing negotiation skills, achieving work life balance, and conflict resolution. Men may have already developed these skill sets or have a larger network to help them acquire these skills. According to the Harvard Business Review, “[…] among graduates of elite MBA programs around the world—the high potentials on whom companies are counting to navigate the turbulent global economy over the next decade—women continue to lag men at every single career stage, right from their first professional jobs” (Carter, N.M., & Silva, C., March 2010).
In the fall of 2015, two Slippery Rock University (SRU) Master of Business Administration students, Katelin McCallan and Cheyanne Crevar, embarked on a journey to create a business organization for women in the Slippery Rock area. The students, along with their advisers, Dr. Diane D. Galbraith and Dr. Melanie Anderson, created a new group, Women’s Solar Center, also known as Solar (a metaphor for helping women in business shine). This was started based on an authentic desire to help women succeed.
How was the Centre created?
Katelin and Cheyanne were working as graduate students for the university. They discovered a women’s entrepreneurial center called EMagnify located at Seton Hill University. The head of the center was leaving and the group was going to be disbanded from the area. We learned that the region does not have many centers for women who want to prosper in business or outlets to learn and grow in this space. This resulted in proposing that Slippery Rock University step up and create a center that addresses the needs of our peers and the advancement of women.
They contacted myself and a colleague, Dr. Anderson to be part of this journey. The four of us met on a regular basis to develop the centre, its mission and write up a grant proposal to support the Centre. We received a $4,289 Faculty-Student Research Grant, which allowed the two students to further develop the Centre. They have been working to recruit female alumni in business and create a space where female students and alumni could get support in starting a business, contract negotiations, salary negotiations, mentoring and work/life balance. We had a first start up meeting that drew 50 women.
What are the goals/aims of the centre?
We want to utilize the resources of faculty, alumni, and students of Slippery Rock University to break down the barriers for women in business and help them on their journey towards advancement and achieving work life balance. The group will reach out to students, faculty, staff, and regional community members. Women involved in Solar will learn about various professional topics including networking, conflict resolution, professional document building, and negotiation. In addition to skill development and education, women will have the chance to participate in mentoring programs with Slippery Rock University professors and community members.
Presently, we are working on securing area speakers to provide information in a variety of areas. Our December speaker was a woman from the Dress for Success organization that focuses on professional dress in the workplace. We are planning to develop an advisory board to further develop the Centre. Students and alumni will need to pay dues to join the Centre, $25 for a semester and $35 for the year. This will help pay for speakers and events.
What have been some of the challenges? Successes?
As a new initiative, our biggest challenge is marketing and raising awareness as well as securing resources to grow and develop the Centre. Local organisations such as the Ohio University’s Women in Business (OWIB) were very receptive to helping us launch the Centre. We have already started offering a range of workshops that appeal to students and group members and this was an essential step for our collective growth as professionals in our respective fields.
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?
Start small since this can be such a big initiative. We are not re-inventing the wheel because others have paved the way for us. We know that we need sponsorships and to tap into the community. People need to be impassioned about helping women. Graduate assistants started this enterprise and we need to secure ongoing resources for continuity. We are still in the initial phases ourselves, so we are exploring options to help this organization succeed.
Solar came about because of students, an MBA project to be specific. It is important that schools and faculty have ways to support student initiatives. We as facilitators are more than willing to take an idea from incubation to reality, since we are advocates for creativity and innovation. When these students proposed their idea, we encouraged them to develop it and then provide the groundwork to bring it to fruition. The culture has to be receptive to new ideas as well as the faculty needs to provide the oversight and business acumen to move these projects forward.
What’s next for the initiative?
We are in the planning stages. We are discussing the creation of a signature event to host annually that becomes synonymous with our organization and our mission. In addition, we are discussing a philanthropic partner who is as passionate as we are in supporting women. As we progress, we would like to expand in the region, even as a center for women in business. When these plans materialize, we will request additional resources, possibly a full-time position and/or director. In the interim, we are attempting to secure graduate assistants in the Business department to assist the organization’s student officers.