Bryant alumnae gathered at event
Some of Bryant's most successful alumni gathered to discuss trends in diversity and inclusion, and specifically women in leadership roles.
Alumni panel reflects on rise of women in C-suite jobs
Mar 18, 2020, by Staff Writer

Some of Bryant's most successful alumni gathered earlier this month to discuss trends in diversity and inclusion – specifically the growth of women in leadership – and provide advice about paths to success.

The discussion resonated with many of the Bryant students and alumni in attendance. “The panel was a perfect representation of what Bryant University is about," Julia Di Natale ’22 remarked. "The empowerment and confidence that the panelists illustrated was motivating and made me truly believe that if I can dream it, I can do it.” 

“Recruiting and development, that's a piece of it—but the numbers tell only a tiny part of the story. Inclusion is actually the bigger piece.”

The panelists included:

  • Ellen Wilson ’79, Office of the Chief Executive and Executive Vice President, UnitedHealth Group, and Bryant Trustee;
  • Ann-Marie Harrington '86, Partner, Scribo and Rhode Island Foundation Board member;
  • Scott Voss '92, Managing Director, HarbourVest Partners;
  • Diya Das, Ph.D., Chair and Associate Professor of the Department of Management, moderator.

According to a McKinsey report, organizations have seen an increase in women in the C-suite from about 17% in 2015 to 21% in 2019. While noting this trend is a moderate step in the right direction, the panelists cited some concrete steps being taken by corporate America that might explain it.

“Recruiting and development, that's a piece of it—but the numbers tell only a tiny part of the story. Inclusion is actually the bigger piece,” said Wilson, who is the head of human resources at United Health. 

“Boards are not only looking at this statistically, but saying, 'We have to look at ourselves.'”

The company, she explained, has set up emerging leaders groups sponsored by company CEOs. Their aim is to create inclusive mentoring and help the top decision-makers gain exposure to a diverse pool of talent to promote.

“I think the biggest thing that I've seen is that boards are not only looking at this statistically, but saying, 'We have to look at ourselves,'” said Harrington, adding that it takes hard work for individuals and groups to work through their own biases and entitlements. 

Voss agreed. “When we talk about this topic, it's also part of the whole culture equation. If you walked into HarborVest today, it’s not just about the financials. … it's discussions and training and conscious and unconscious bias or employee engagement and community. .... It's really important to have those institutionalized and systematically pushed through the firm.” 

“Think, ‘I'm gonna move on, and I'll get the next one.’ If you make that commitment, it carries you through.”

Apart from the organizational view, the panelists gave some advice about what individuals could do to be part of the trend. In addition to finding a mentor who believes in you, the panelists told the audience, advocate for what you the want, whether it be pay or opportunities, and persist in reaching your goals.

Said Wilson, “You don’t get to be a certain age without having gone through some tough stuff. It’s the same with your career." If you have career disappointments, she continued, “Think, ‘I'm gonna move on, and I'll get the next one.’ If you make that commitment, it carries you through.”

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