Darden talks representation at Women’s Summit: VIDEO

representation at Darden WIL

“Representation matters,” said Google’s Patrice Ju.

Ju, the tech giant’s business and operations excellence leader was a panelist at the first “Women in Leadership Summit,” hosted by the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business in September 2022.

Ju was joined on stage by more than forty other business leaders with a shared commitment to encouraging opportunities for women. One common theme was the barriers women face to achieving equity in the business world.

Stef Strack, a former VP at Nike, explained what made her exit the high-profile position to launch a global digital platform for women athletes called VOICEINSPORT.

“I went around the country and just listened to young girls,” she said. “I talked to 500 young girls ages 11 all the way through college and I asked them, “What are the issues? Why is it so difficult?”

She says they resoundingly reported a lack of confidence, resources, and support.

“All these things that are cultural and systemic and social,” Strack added. “In order to really help young women, they need to have a sense of belonging and a safe space to go to ask for help-to have conversations in an environment that might look different than the actual system.”

The summit’s attendees included a mix of students, alumni, and emerging leaders.

“I liked the experience Connie Hallquist [president at the lifestyle brand Garnett Hill] shared in the opening speech because she as a woman talked about the role she had as a mom, as an entrepreneur, and as a CEO so I think that’s very inspirational as a future leader,” said Nelly Huaman, a first year Darden student.

representation at Women in Leadership

Support for female founders

The event also served as a platform to promote Darden entrepreneurs. Elizabeth Blankenship, a May 2022 graduate, passed out her sustainable handbags as gifts to attendees.

She launched her company called by EILLY the second week of her first year at Darden.

“I take the leftover fabrics from other designers which would normally be thrown away or incinerated, and we upcycle them into clothing, handbags and accessories,” Blankenship said.

During the breakout sessions, panelists discussed topics, such as how to navigate ethical dilemmas and the challenges of being a female disrupter in the sustainability space.

“Confidence is good,” said Chrissa Pagitsas, a former Fannie Mae VP who now works as an independent ESG advisor. “I think having a vision is better in that it sustains you in your confidence to make the connections that you need to bring people to share the vision with you.”

While panelists like Bill Shelton, Co-CEO and Co-Founder at Parity, pointed out that, “Corporate America was set up on a system based on men,” the panelists urged women to challenge biases and lack of representation at their individual organizations.

“Don’t accept it,” said Ju. “Invite more people to the room.”

“Know that you have power,” said Shelton, adding that if your first efforts to encourage diversity don’t work, “Take it to the board and don’t let your demands go unheard.”

Attendees say events like these are crucial to share solutions and make connections.

“Especially for women, I think that we are working together to get our voices heard by other people so that collaboration we have among each other is key for our success,” said Huaman.

representation at Darden WIL
[Representation] Good Disruptors: Women in Sustainability panel, moderated by Darden Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne

Photo from Shernay Williams

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Shernay is a mom, entrepreneur, and lifelong learner who's been fortunate to spend her entire professional career telling stories. She has more than a decade of experience as a TV, print, and radio journalist for local and national news outlets. In 2016, she launched a content firm to help nonprofits and businesses tell their stories more strategically. Her passions: mom empowerment, entrepreneurship, and self-development.

She lives outside of Baltimore with her two sons.

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