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Breaking the glass ceiling one pane at a time

Stevens Institute of Technology and Junior Achievement connect high school girls with professionals for a day of networking

Ann Murphy, associate professor and associate dean in the School Of Business at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

 

The glass ceiling for women is broken not once but countless times over centuries.

To help continue those advances, the Stevens Institute of Technology School of Business, in conjunction with Junior Achievement of New Jersey, earlier in February hosted The Women in Business Career Workshop, attracting 250 high school girls. They connected with female mentors from New Jersey businesses in a forum that described opportunities for high school girls who intend to work in business and technology, organizers said.

“We fill the gap between what kids learn in school and what they have to learn to be successful after they graduate,” said Christy Tighe, director of college and career readiness at Junior Achievement.

“K-12 school districts can’t do it alone. In order to prepare today’s students, we really need to work together and collaborate. This program connects our high school students with higher education and the business community. We have mentors from companies who are helping them make a connection between what they are learning in school and how that translates to a career.”

Lindsay Hartelius, coordinator of undergraduate outreach and reputation at the Stevens Institute of Technology in the School of Business, said this year is the fourth that the school has worked with Junior Achievement to hold the forum.

“It is very exciting for us because it focuses on women in business,” Hartelius said. “We will gauge the success by the fact that we were sold-out. We had to turn schools away.”

Some of the greatest challenges facing women in business are working in a team and making sure that one’s skillset aligns with one’s job, she said.

This year’s turnout was the largest of the four years. It attracted 250 high school girls in grades 9 to 12 from the following 13 schools: Oak Knoll High School, Hoboken High School, Weehawken High School, Barringer High School in Newark, East Orange High School, Chatham High School, College Achieve Charter School in Plainfield, Rutherford High School, Passaic Technical Institute, Essex Technical Institute, Bergen Technical Institute, Fort Lee High School, and Ridgefield High School.

The students were given team-building challenges that simulated professional work environments. Participants were assigned to different tables so as to meet new people.

“As anyone who has a job knows, you have to work with other people and sometimes people who are different from you,” Tighe said. “That is why they mixed people up when they got here.”

The importance of mentors

The high school attendees networked with 30 mentors from Salesforce, Deloitte, Eli Lilly, Sanofi, Grant Thornton, Wiley, and Accenture.

Students Emily, Norka and Kylie at the Women in Business Workshop.

The students heard from women who are professionals in several careers as part of a leadership panel. They were asked how they chose their career paths.

Juliette Muszka is a clinical pharmacist at Sanofi recalled choosing her career at age 16 while enjoying chemistry and algebra in high school.

“Pharmacy has a lot of opportunities to work with various fields within health care,” Muszka said. “Seventeen years ago, I started with Sanofi. Education played an integral role in my decision to pursue this career.”

Asked about finding a mentor, she recalled having mentors as a high school student and as an adult.

“You can have a peer mentor: someone you trust,” Muszka said. “What has helped me throughout my career is having strong networks. Every promotion I have received to get into this organization has been through someone who has tapped me on the shoulder.”

Asked how she works in a career that was traditionally dominated by men, Muszka said she prioritizes her family.

“You can do it all but not at the same time,” she said. “You have to channel your energy. More organizations are allowing you to work from home to have a work-life balance.”

Maureen Okwuonu is a validation engineer at Eli Lilly & Co., where she has worked for 12 years.

“The only way I can create visibility for myself is by creating opportunities on my own,” she said. “Whatever you dream about, you can make it a reality. But in between, obstacles will get in the way. You have to create your own path.”

She added: “Know that the more hard work you put in, you will create more opportunities that will come your way. Keep in mind that being a good leader should not be a dictatorship.”

Ann Murphy, associate dean in the School of Business at Stevens, said she did not know what she wanted to do for a career when she was in high school. She earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting, worked for accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, and then earned an MBA and a PhD to work in higher education.

“Education was about pursuing what I liked,” Murphy said.

She recommended finding mentors “who are at the same level as you. Seek mentors and build that social capital.”

“I have felt my voice has been heard and I am pretty lucky,” Murphy said.

Lisa Hernandez, a partner at Deloitte, said her greatest professional challenge occurred in 2009 during the financial crisis. One of her Deloitte partners told her to stay at the company and she would become a partner. But she intended to leave and work for another financial services company.

“I felt betrayed because I put in hard work but I did not get the partnership,” she said of her first attempt. “I created my own path. I took it even further than that. I became known in the industry.”

On the value of mentors, Hernandez said: “I would not be in my role today without mentors. We bounce ideas off each other. It is also important to have sponsors. They bang the table for you.”

Tighe said that breaking the glass ceiling is an ongoing process.

“We have to engage men,” Tighe said. “We have to work together collaboratively — not only women. When we put together teams in business, we have a diverse perspective. The most successful teams are the ones that have diversity of opinions, diversity of background [and] diversity of thoughts.”

David Hutter
David Hutter grew up in Darien, Conn., and covers higher education, transportation and manufacturing for NJBIZ. He can be reached at: dhutter@njbiz.com.

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