Women Rise Up
- © 2016 Tamzin B. Smith
Audrey Utchen’s senior capstone project in business management, “Shift Happens: The Rise of Women in American Business Leadership,” explores diversity in the workplace. She took departmental honors for her project, which she’ll present this Thursday, April 27, in the Underwood Lobby.
Throughout the course of her undergraduate career, Audrey Utchen ’17 has been intent on pursuing a career in finance. Even though she came to understand the cultural biases she would face as a woman in a male-dominated industry, she was not deterred. A business management major with a concentration in accounting & finance and a minor in economics, she took advantage of every opportunity to learn more about the industry — participating in the Washington College to Wall Street program and the Brown Advisory Student-Managed Investment Fund, interning with an investor research and IR advisory firm founded by Rebecca Corbin Loree ’00, and traveling with President Sheila Bair in January to meet Warren Buffett. She also completed a job shadow last January with the wealth management team at Silicon Valley Bank in her hometown of San Francisco.
“I have tremendous interest in the financial side of business and how businesses make decisions,” says Utchen, a varsity athlete who served as SGA president in her senior year. “For my senior capstone project, I wanted to look at a contemporary problem and consider why there aren’t enough women in leadership positions in business.”
As part of her research, Utchen set out to interview successful female entrepreneurs who hold high-level management positions in male-dominated industries. The first hurdle was to identify those women. “It was hard to find women to interview,” Utchen admits.
She talked to Washington College alumni who started their own businesses and to board members who run divisions of international corporations. She tracked down a sorority sister. Whether they work in the hospitality industry or in IT, whether they are 25-year-old financial advisors or 60-year-old executives, the 14 women Utchen interviewed shared similar perspectives about getting ahead in a man’s world.
First of all, gender doesn’t matter when it comes to successful leadership. What matters is your boss’s attitude. “There are more differences among women than there are differences among men and women,” Utchen says. “When they look back at pivotal moments in their careers, the women I interviewed found that as long as they were given the opportunity, their gender – and the gender of their mentors – didn’t really matter. One woman did not have a single female boss throughout her entire career. That’s one of her biggest regrets. It was super interesting to learn how influential bosses can be in determining how women learn to lead and manage.”
Second, management is sometimes part of the problem. “I talked to several women who have watched the exodus of women in the tech industry because they were the only women in the room. The tech industry isn’t doing anything to help women get into higher management positions,” says Utchen. “And when it comes to the social aspect of career networking, women are held to a double standard. It’s less acceptable for wives and mothers to socialize with co-workers after hours.”
And finally, women who have achieved success in their fields are bringing their leadership skills to bear in strengthening their own communities, particularly through their involvement in non-profits. “These women are constantly fighting to put themselves forward and to make a pathway for other women. And they are giving back, especially the older women. It’s great to see how they apply their professional skills in research, analysis, and communications in their own communities.”