A JS Thinkstand Event: Leadership Learnings

Is female leadership in business education different than male leadership? Is this a good time for women in business?  How are business colleges responding to the way the business landscape is evolving in the 21st century? What do business colleges offer to mid-career and senior female executives?

Three female deans of Atlanta business colleges – Dr. Maryam Alavi of the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech, Dr. Erika James of the Goizueta Business School at Emory University, and Dr. Kathy Schwaig of the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University – discussed these topics and more during a panel discussion hosted by Jackson Spalding in collaboration with TEDx Centennial Park Women on July 28. Coincidentally, this was the same day that Hillary Clinton made history by accepting the presidential nomination of a major political party.

A few observations on the conversation from the moderator’s chair:

When it comes to leadership, talent should be the determining factor.

While there is a trend toward women taking more and greater leadership roles in both higher education and business, talent matters most.  “We’re here because we’re really good at what we do,” said Dean James.  “It is not an easy path, but one thing that is true of women is by and large we are not afraid of challenges.”  As female deans in a traditionally male-dominated space, the challenge is identifying the best talent regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or any other factor and giving those people a chance to succeed and improve the institution. Dean Alavi agreed, with the caveat that there is a still a long way to go.

Understanding the business structure is key to succeeding in it.

Dean Schwaig noted that both higher education and business operate in structures “created by men and for a male way of doing things.”  For women interested in leadership, understanding that structure is essential to succeeding in it, but also for changing it to a more collaborative, less hierarchical model.  “We need our female networks, yes, but we also need to be able to function in the male world of golf courses and business clubs,” said Dean James.  “It’s both, not one or the other.”

Business community needs and business education must intertwine. 

Engaging students, rather than lecturing to them, through project-based learning and other collaborative methods that mirror the way business is conducted by most companies today is now the norm.  There is also an intentional focus on employability and content mastery: “Part of our job is to help with workforce development,” said Dean Schwaig.

There is a need for mid-career and senior executive-level leadership training and continuing education. 

The three colleges integrate leadership opportunities for their students at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as offer leadership programs for established professionals.  “We need to augment the traditional skills with a new set of capabilities given the pace of change in business and the world today,” said Dean Alavi.  “The nature of decision-making is changing.”

Mentors are critical to business students and throughout a professional career. 

Dean Alavi, however, offered to take the concept a step further with “sponsorships.” Sponsorship, she explained, brings with it a deeper sense of commitment to the direction and momentum of the mentee’s life and career.  “We need to take responsibility for each other and find ways to make sure we have every chance to succeed.”

And that was a powerful note on which to close a discussion that probably could have lasted another hour.  As Jackson Spalding founder Glen Jackson said in closing, Atlanta is fortunate to have these three dynamic leaders influencing both higher education and the business community.

We are grateful to the Deans for sharing their valuable time on this compelling topic.