Since co-founding Georgetown University Women in Leadership, a professional development group on campus, with Ava Arroyo (SFS ‘16) in 2012, I am often asked what it is like to be a woman in business. This question typically comes from younger GUWIL members, who seek to pursue business-related careers but feel intimidated by the prospect.
Their intimidation is common, but it should not be. It comes from everything they have heard about business being dominated by male authorities and personalities. It comes from research that shows how men who exhibit the same leadership qualities as women are perceived as authoritative while their female counterparts are described as bossy.
This intimidation is discussed, dissected and discounted in books like “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg, which warns its female readers against the temptation to shy away from opportunities and instead tells them to engage fully and completely. On top of this, the culture at Georgetown glorifies the business school and makes it tough for those outside of the McDonough School of Business to feel like they have the same chances for success.
I am an English major and film and media studies minor, and I love it. In fact, I think what I have studied at Georgetown has truly been an asset that sets me apart from others in business settings.
After being exposed to a media environment that enforces the authority of men in the work-force younger GUWIL members and their peers wonder how to find a reason to dive into business. So how do these young women get into business roles confidently?
I find this question to have a multifaceted response, at least as it relates to my personal experience. Unlike what you might expect, my work experience, which varies from the hallowed halls of William Morris Endeavor — the talent agency made famous by “Entourage” — to he marketing department at Paramount Pictures has not necessarily been plagued by the typical workplace sexism that we have all been told to be wary of. My voice has been valued. I have made connections with both men and women on teams to which I have made contributions. I have found that my parents expect of me exactly what they expect from my twin brother. Perhaps, in this realm at least, I am simply lucky to have more supportive parents than others, but I have found that most women at Georgetown are here to learn, not necessarily here for their MRS degrees.
GUWIL was, in part, created in response to the external warnings that block women’s confidence in business. Instead of focusing on the negative, the organization seeks to equip its members with the tools to find success in business-related settings. The negative can be described as the fear of getting shut down for being bossy and acting boldly, the discomfort in confronting authorities point-blank, or the potential to miss out on something because of not leaning in. Take away these fears, which women of this generation often associate with business, and young women are much better equipped to succeed as leaders.
These messages are impossible to ignore and I’m not suggesting avoiding them. Rather, I am advocating providing women with the leadership training they might not otherwise have access to. The point is to show young women how they can use their community for support and inspiration. It is to teach them how to read these messages and take away their own meaning.
As my own work experience has increased, I have noticed how important this media literacy component is. As a result, I have founded a symposium at Georgetown called Reading Today’s Media: Starting the Dialogue for Young Women. The event seeks to show attendees that there is something that can be done regarding negative media portrayals of women. Taking place Friday, April 8, the event features a combination of off-campus talent and in-house professors. Appropriately, the day starts with a panel called “Media Literacy as a Tool.” Because, after all, media literacy is where it all starts.
I am preparing to graduate from Georgetown in just over a month. As I get ready for the real world, I look forward to being a woman in business. I am sure there will be bumps along the way, but I hope not only to follow in the footsteps of those who came before me, but also to forge a path ahead for others to follow, all while leading by example. Women will always be asked what it is like to be a woman in business. Hopefully, as the years go on, their answers will continue to change for the better.
Alana Snyder is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.
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