Leading businesswomen inspire

"There's no reason for me not to dream big," said Mhlaba Shitima, a sophomore business administration major from Lusaka, Zambia.

This was the take-away for four Bluffton students who attended the 19th annual Dynamic Women in Business conference on Feb. 6 at Harvard. The one-day conference featured speakers who are leaders in the business world.

"I wanted to hear from and talk to women who were confident and comfortable in the business world," said Sarah Ricks, a May 2010 graduate from Lima, Ohio, who double majored in business administration—with a marketing concentration—and writing.

One of the keynote speakers was Ann Simonds, president of the baking products division at General Mills. She focused on important moments in business when a person has to throw her whole self into a project, said Ricks, who felt challenged by Simonds to "listen to the voice that is telling you to go in a certain direction." The speaker also emphasized that women in business should not be discouraged if they don't see other women around them trying to do the same things, Ricks said.

Meron Dibia, from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a junior physics major with a minor in business administration, enjoyed hearing Simonds because she integrated her life experiences with her experiences in business. "I never realized how different it was for women to be in these positions," Dibia said. "I now understand that it is difficult because it is a male-dominated career. For me, it was inspiring to see that it is achievable for women to be leaders in business."

The Bluffton women were also impressed by the fact that the speakers, while powerful in the business realm, still took an interest in the students and genuinely wanted to make connections.

Attending the "Women Celebrating Diversity" panel session, Ricks also heard Lillian Lincoln Lambert, the first African-American to graduate from Harvard Business School, and talked to her afterward. "She was very friendly and open, very transparent about her experiences, and she is now a mentor to me," Ricks said.

During the "Women Leaders" session, Shitima was impressed with Lynn Titan, CEO and principal of the private equity firm Patriarch Partners, who shared her humble beginnings.

The Bluffton students all saw the conference as a way to make connections for internships and careers. The business leaders stressed the importance of having a mentor and, during a lunch break, sat at different tables so students could pick a table that focused on their particular area of interest and engage with the women.

Shitima met a FedEx business manager and through that relationship landed an interview for a summer internship with the company. Svetlana Mumba, a May 2010 graduate from Chingola, Zambia, and an accounting major with a minor in business administration, has maintained a mentor/mentee relationship with a female professional from Boston Scientific, a global leader in the medical business industry.

Ricks, who joined the Sherwin Williams management program after graduation, was inspired by what she heard. "I needed to see other women doing the things I want to do," she said, adding that she has many goals to achieve to get where she wants to be in the global business community.

Pi Delta Honor Society and Bluffton Women's Council provided financial support for the student's travel and conference costs. Both organizations provide grants for student development. Since the fall of 2009, the Women's Council mission is focused on providing professional development grants to female students.