Kathy Smith was raised by her mom ― a single parent ― who dedicated her life to helping others as a nurse. When her mom, who was part of a union, went on strike it left a lasting impression on Smith.

“It was the first time I saw hundreds of people gather together to make a change ― and all of them were women. I remember how somber it was, that something was so wrong that those who had dedicated their lives to supporting and caring for others walked away,” said Smith (MBA ’02). “I thought there has to be a better way to make change and I wanted to be in control of that change.”

Symposium Co-sponsor Camille Gibson, Chief Diversity Officer Cynthia Turner and Symposium Co-sponsor Paula Bennett.
Chief Diversity Officer Cynthia Turner (center) with Symposium co-sponsors Camille Gibson (left) and Paula Bennett. (Co-sponsor Joyce Mace was unavailable for a photo.)

Years later, Smith saw parallels of that display of empowerment as she joined the trailblazers, glass-ceiling breakers and community executives at Fisher’s third annual Women’s Leadership Symposium.

The event, which included sessions on creating change, leveraging personal brands, building teams, continuous learning, finding life balance, elevating others and strategizing to reach the C-suite, sought to empower current and future leaders through the inspirational stories, strategies and struggles of successful and established professionals.

“We are here to help encourage, inspire and motivate each other,” said Cynthia Turner, assistant dean and chief diversity officer and EY Faculty Fellow, who kicked off the event. “Our goal is to enlighten and inspire you to become introspective and to move you to be the best that you can be. Be organic and intentional, be curious and self-aware, live without regret, reach out to others and embrace who you are.”

The purpose of the Symposium was a simple one for Symposium co-sponsor and participant Paula Bennett (BSBA ’71).

“By putting successful women in front of other women, I hope to expose young women to ideas and inspire their curiosity and show that this is where we should be as women,” said Bennett, former president and CEO of J.Jill.

Allyship, Advocacy and Sponsorship: Why They Matter

Smith’s career journey began in the paint department of a local hardware store, where she found her first sponsor, her 75-year-old boss, who noticed how Smith didn’t just mix paint, but understood the transformative effect the paint would have in customer’s lives – painting a nursery, decorating their first home, rebuilding their lives after a divorce. She encouraged Smith to explore the company’s training program.

“Her sponsorship led to my first job in human resources. She connected my purpose to the organization’s purpose,” said Smith, vice president of talent management and development at Nationwide. “I learned that people notice you, so embrace what’s in front of you, create meaning in what you are doing, connect to the human being by understanding the ‘why’ and connecting with them at that level.”

For Fisher alumnus Suppakorn Wechvitan (BSBA ’16), connecting and understanding the “why” was what prompted him to attend the Symposium.

“I was in fashion for seven years and worked with a lot of women,” he said. “I want to understand how to support women and lift their voices, what barriers they are facing in 2024, and how we ― men and women ― can help leverage each other.”

Kathy Smith and Mae Smitherman-Smith discuss how allies, mentors and sponsors play crucial roles in professional growth,
Kathy Smith and Mae Smitherman-Smith discuss how allies, mentors and sponsors play crucial roles in professional growth.

Smith, who was joined by Mae Smitherman-Smith (BSBA ’90, MBA ’95), executive director of supply chain and warranty finance at Ford, discussed how allies, mentors and sponsors play crucial roles in career development and professional growth.

“You will get rich because you are deliberate in what you are doing,” Smitherman-Smith said. “An ally gets to see your talent in an organization ― sees when you bring your talent to a team. If you don’t see the value of yourself, no one can help you. You need to own your own space, go out on a limb and show up every day.

“Keeping your head down and working hard is not going to get you where you want to go. You need to think about who is really involved in the organization and reach out to them. Being self-aware of who you are is the first step. You also need to run towards opportunities to break down and learn what you are not good at.”

Clara Springer, events manager at Star Lanes Polaris and a Symposium attendee, said the discussion gave her a self-confidence boost.

“I recognized the potential in other people, but I didn’t see it in myself,” Springer said. “I realized that I tend to look out for others, but that if I’m not curious and don’t ask questions, I won’t progress.”

2024 Women’s Leadership Symposium

Finding Life Balance

In 2001, after her five-year-old daughter unexpectedly passed away, Jayne Byrnes (BSBA ’83, BSME ’83), decided to dedicate her life to growing, developing and helping women focus on their life purpose, vision and how to balance their lives.

Byrnes, a professional certified coach, told session attendees that a question they must ask themselves is: “What is in you to help you survive and thrive?” For a balanced work/life integration, professionals need to make time for things they have to do, but also things they want to do. They have the power to control personal rejuvenation.

“There are external impacts on us every day in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world,” Byrnes said. “Noticing our state of mind is a check-in with ourselves. Being aware of ourselves can impact our emotions on ourselves and on others.”

Autumn Wippel learns about work/life integration strategies from Professional Certified Coach Jayne Byrnes.
Attendee Autumn Wippel learns about work/life integration strategies from Professional Certified Coach Jayne Byrnes.

To create change in a professional life, Byrnes recommended brainstorming six to eight dimensions that are important to an individual, consider the amount of attention that is devoted to each, and rank each dimension 0 (low) to 5 (high). She then advised stepping back and looking at which dimensions need attention.

The advice prompted Autumn Wippel to reflect on recent life changes.

“The last two years of my life have been in flux. I’ve become a single mom and want to make a change in my life,” said Wippel, a patient success coordinator, non-oncologic fusion at the Wexner Medical Center. “This session taught me that there can be people in your life who don’t always want to support you and you need to find people who will help move you forward. I used to have my priorities focused in a certain way but learned that it’s okay for me to shift my priorities and put more effort into my own personal and professional goals.”

Building Your Personal Brand

Kimberly Lee Minor is a person who loves elevating women by helping them understand, create and refine their personal brands. Minor, CEO of Women of Color in Retail and Bumbershoot Group, led a breakout session devoted to helping attendees establish their personal brands.

“Authenticity is your number one thing to finding your brand,” she said. “Bring yourself to work and once you’ve discovered who you are, be that person.”

Joyce Mace (BSBA ’84), retired partner at PwC and a Symposium co-sponsor, echoed Minor’s advice. 

Kimberly Lee Minor discusses personal brand strategies
Kimberly Lee Minor discusses personal brand strategies.

“Discover your superpower,” she said. “It’s what you give to the world that’s incredibly valuable ― the combination of your talents, your passion and your actions. Once you discover it, share it with the world. Use it as your navigational beacon throughout your life. It will never steer you wrong.”

Minor guided attendees through strategic best practices for effectively communicating unique skills and ways to enhances one’s image and elevate one’s professional presence.

For early career professionals building their brands, she shared seven key takeaways: a personal brand is a billboard; forget bad advice; find a champion; remind yourself that you are confident and enough; prioritize your life; be strategic and intentional; and have grace.

For mid-to-late career professionals, Minor advised them to stay curious, live without regret, take informed chances, share unique strengths, live intentionally, appreciate aging, and give yourself grace.

Second-year marketing student Bailey Boyle said Minor’s advice opened her eyes to ways she can find balance.

“She really led me to see that I need to be true to myself and can’t let others hinder what I can and can’t do,” Boyle said. “I need to focus on my strengths to be the best person I can be. For my strategic self, I need to learn to introduce myself so that people know my name. These are all things I hope to work on in my daily life.”

Building Financial Wealth

With the help of Sam McCoy (BSBA ’11, MAcc ’12) and Beth Sparks (BSBA ’02), attendees learned the fundamentals of how to develop a wealth-building mindset and accelerate their wealth at any age or stage of their career.

Sam McCoy and Beth Sparks discuss developing a wealth-building mindset.
Sam McCoy and Beth Sparks discuss developing a wealth-building mindset.

“Wealth and becoming wealthy are about discipline,” said McCoy, associate vice president at Morgan Stanley. “There are no quick, get rich schemes. You need to invest consistently and for a long time. You need to let your money sit and let it grow.”

Both McCoy and Sparks, vice president of investments at Raymond James, said the key to developing financial wealth is building a foundational structure and financial plan by:

  • Creating a checking account to pay bills

  • Transferring money from the checking account, creating a savings account as a rainy-day fund and saving at least three months operating expenses for two sources of income (six months of operating expenses for a single income)

  • Investing at least an equal amount of money that your company will match in a 401k if your company offers it, or opening a Roth or traditional IRA

  • Creating a brokerage account and, if you don’t have a lot of information about the investments, picking broad diverse assets

“It’s not what you make, it’s all about what you spend,” said Sparks. “You have your base living expenses, but if you lower your spending, it will increase your quality of life and leave money for your wants and needs.”

Identifying and Overcoming Barriers to Ethical Consumption

The day-to-day decisions we make help define who we are and help us move forward in life. During an introspective, interactive session, Rebecca Walker Reczek discussed her research on the psychological and marketplace barriers that stop us from choosing more ethical product alternatives.

Rebecca Walker Reczek shares her research on barriers to choosing ethical products.
Rebecca Walker Reczek shares her research on barriers to choosing ethical products.

We want to help others and be responsible consumers, said Reczek, the Berry Chair of New Technologies in Marketing. But often two things arise: 1) a conflict between our “want self,” which desires to avoid thinking about ethical ramifications and our “should self,” which cares about what we are purchasing and 2) perceived trade-offs between our moral values and other end-value states.

Our coping mechanism for this struggle is willful ignorance, which causes us to find the more ethical decision to be less fashionable or attractive and makes us denigrate the source of the threat to our integrity. We tell ourselves we really don’t care and makes us questions our own motives.

Reczek says our perceived trade-offs between our moral values and other end-value states can come into play. We often think that if something is sustainable, then it is less strong and effective, and sustainability becomes a liability for products where strength is valued. The opposite is true, where sustainability is seen a a positive where gentleness is valued.

“Our memory is malleable and constructive, with all the biases in our memory coming into play,” Reczek said. “If we can’t remember that a competitor’s products are not ethical, it allows us to purchase unethical products without guilt or anger.”

How to Power Forward

In reflecting on her own career journey, Camille Gibson (BA ’78, MBA ’83) noted the importance of representation in and among leadership positions.

Marna Ricker and Anu Saxena discuss powering forward.
Marna Ricker and Anu Saxena discuss how to power forward in your career.

“The data supports that women are still lagging behind men," said Gibson, chief executive officer of Sana Foods and a Symposium co-sponsor. “Research shows that companies with more women on their boards outperform those without by a significant margin, and organizations with greater gender diversity among senior leaders are more profitable.

“Yet despite significant progress, women are still underrepresented in leadership positions. Events like this help create self-awareness, approaches and tools to improve leadership skills and potential.”

Marna Ricker, global vice chair at EY, and Anu Saxena, president of Hilton Supply Management discussed women in leadership and shared their career development strategies. 

“No job is in reach until you master your current job,” said Ricker (BSBA ’91). “Deliver consistent results, be inspiring, lead people and take the hard projects even if they aren’t in your lane.”

Saxena (BSBA '01) encouraged attendees to fully embrace the present and master the ‘what’ they’re in charge of now before asking ‘What’s next?’

Alumna Kristen Ayers shares how the "How to Power Forward" gave her a confidence boost.
Alumna Kristen Ayers shares how the "How to Power Forward" gave her a confidence boost.

“Life is a zig zag. You need to jump into challenging positions. If you don’t feel a little discomfort, you aren’t learning,” Saxena said.

She also said that there are no short cuts to success.

“You need to put in the work, be a humble lifelong learner and don’t be afraid of feedback,” Saxena said. “Feedback is a great gift, as it shows that those giving it care about you and want you to do better.”

During her professional career, Mace said she had embraced Saxena’s advice.

“I learned to be confident while being humble,” Mace said. “Seems like a conundrum, but humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. Be confident while remaining open to feedback from others and allow them to speak freely and openly.”

Both Ricker and Saxena have taken risks and owned their careers. Ricker discussed powering forward when facing struggles in her professional and personal life.

“In order to power forward you need to be competent, reliable and consistent,” Ricker said. “Your career will have ups and downs, but you need to be able to pick yourself up and let yourself go through the ups and downs.”

Alumna Kristen Ayers (BSBA ’04, JD ’07) said hearing these women gave her the confidence to move forward professionally.

“It’s a promise to myself to take the mic, to be loud and that it’s okay to be myself,” Ayers said. “If you have faith in yourself, you will be able to get through it.”

Thank you to our alumnae for their generous support!

Paula Bennett

Paula Bennett
(BSBA ’71)

Camille Gibson

Camille Gibson
(BA ’78, MBA ’83)

Joyce Mace

Joyce Mace
(BSBA ’84)

Cynthia Turner Asst. Dean and Chief Diversity Officer, EY Faculty Fellow
Faculty Profile