By Nick Erickson
George Washington University sophomore Kate Dressel, who is concentrating in business analytics and finance, struggled to find representation in the career field that interested her, and startling statistics show why. According to a recent study, women account for just 15% of Fortune 500 CEOs, while women founders secured only 2% of venture capital in 2021.
In high school, Dressel created a business club to take matters into her own hands. She and her current team of 23 committee members, five directors and fellow co-chair are taking on that mentality again by spearheading an effort to have 58 women leaders in business, including 35 GW alumni, speak at the 13th annual George Washington Women in Business (GWWIB) Spring Conference, which will take place in a hybrid format Saturday at Funger and Duquès Halls.
“I've found leaders since I've come to campus, but I never felt like I really had that person to look up to growing up,” Dressel said. “For me to now have the opportunity, I felt like I wanted to capitalize on that.”
The daylong conference, which runs from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., begins with a distinguished keynote speaker and speaker series, then leads into a series of workshops and nine industry focused panels ranging from fashion to finance. More than 300 students and professionals are expected to attend, and tickets are still available until 12:30 p.m. Friday. The event is open to all gender identities and areas of study.
“Refresh” is this year’s theme as the conference will emphasize the importance of sustainability, growth and inclusivity in the wake of COVID-19. The 2022 conference will feature the first in-person aspects since 2019.
Dressel and her co-chair, junior international affairs major Emily Morris, believed it was vital to incorporate the pandemic into this year’s theme as the worldwide response to the virus allowed already visible inequities to come even more into focus.
“It’s important to acknowledge that the pandemic had a specific impact on marginalized groups that were already experiencing inequality in the workplace,” Dressel said.
In recognizing the effect of the virtual environment and how it harmed certain groups of people through issues such as microaggressions and accessibility, the GWWIB spring conference team is challenging everyone to start fresh, branch out and create organic connections. That’s why the group worked so hard to bring in such diverse speakers from all races, ethnicities and backgrounds.
“We hope everyone sees someone like them and is inspired by them,” said Morris, who is minoring in Arabic and business administration.
The GWWIB Spring Conference fits a GW School of Business (GWSB) mission of empowering women in the industry to break through barriers and take their place at the head of board and meeting rooms. Recently, GW was recognized for enrolling the highest percentage of women enrolled in a full-time M.B.A. program, and the GWSB graduate program has a majority women enrollment.
“GWSB is often recognized for the large number of women leaders among our student body and faculty ranks,” said GWSB Vice Dean for Strategy Liesl Riddle. “What makes GWSB truly special is the strong ecosystem of support that exists between our female alumni, students, and faculty. The GWWIB spring conference is just one of the many ways that our community comes together to celebrate and promote women business leaders.”
The conference, now in its 13th year, is also a way to make the work and mission of GWWIB even more visible.
“GWWIB is a cohesive group of motivated women who are focused on professional development and networking with experienced women from various industry sectors,” said Dale Carlson-Bebout, M.B.A. ’90, who is a current member of the GWSB Advisory Board and mentored GWWIB’s spring conference initiative for many years. “The environment at GWWIB is fun, inclusive and supportive; women helping women as they build personal and professional success.”
Student organizers want this year’s conference attendees to walk away from the day feeling empowered, enlightened and ultimately refreshed. Having that clear mindset, they hope, will allow people to strive toward a more sustainable, inclusive environment where not just women, but people of all backgrounds can see themselves represented in leadership positions.
Morris is forever grateful seeing that representation and feeling its impact growing up as her mother, who has worked in business management, consulting with a focus in deal advisory and strategy. Now in the early stages of forming her own career, she is teaming with fellow driven women at GW so others can be raised in similar environments.
“When a door is open,” Morris said, “you need to keep it propped it open for others.”