Women in Business event empowers next generation of women leaders

Interim Dean Dolly King, Natasha Randle, Ally's Meg Ryan and student
Thursday, March 14, 2024
Meg Ryan shares insights at the WIB Leadership Development Summit Powered by Ally Financial

Rather than a traditional keynote speech, students engaged in a fireside chat with Ally leader Meg Ryan at the recent Belk College of Business Women in Business Leadership Development Summit Powered by Ally. The conversational format allowed students to connect with Ryan in an organic way as she shared career advice and life lessons learned as a woman forging her leadership path.

"All experience is good experience," Ryan said, as she revealed her history as a student on a quest to find a community in her business college. Applying for the Dean’s Council in her business school, Ryan assumed everyone got an interview. What followed was what she described as a pivotal "pity interview" with the organization's president, turning an ordinary moment into a transformative one.

This seemingly insignificant encounter led to Ryan's entry into the organization, eventually resulting in her presidency during her senior year at Miami University. Her story served as a powerful example of life's little moments shaping personal development and fostering a sense of community.

2024 Women in Business luncheonAt the summit, over 100 students, alumni and industry professionals gathered for Ryan’s keynote discussion and for two breakout sessions organized and led by student leaders with the Women In Business initiative. The event at The Dubois Center at UNC Charlotte Center City also offered structured networking and presentation of scholarships. Sphoorthi Munnangi and Ansley Whitaker won undergraduate event scholarships; Ta-Halia Fairman received a graduate event scholarship; and Kennedy Grayden and Hannah Wood won Boylan-Ott Scholarships.

During breakout sessions, students also learned about recognizing and boldly showcasing their worth. The biggest risk they can take is by believing in themselves, discussions revealed. Speakers urged students to avoid underestimating their value or downplaying their skills and achievements. Instead, they should leverage opportunities to highlight their talents and capabilities, whether asking for a raise and promotion or pitching themselves for a big project. With this mindset shift, students' eyes lit up as they talked about their readiness to advocate for themselves and create meaningful change.

The Power of Listening

In her comments, Ryan emphasized the art of active listening. "Everybody says they are listening, but are you actually listening?" Ryan asked. The audience reflected on their own listening habits. Heads nodded, showing recognition that understanding doesn’t just come from hearing, but from empathizing with the speaker's perspective.

Ryan described that she takes an unapologetic approach to asking what others might be thinking but be hesitant to express. She observes not only people’s verbal communication but also the unsaid. This is where active listening comes into play, and this distinctive quality helps her succeed, she said.

Career Evolution

"Can you tell us about your career path and the squiggly lines you took that added value?" asked a student. "Career is not always upward moving," Ryan noted.

She highlighted her experience of taking a newly created role with limited direction. "It was a lateral move," she said. "They needed me to work on an integration, so I put my head down and got to work." Ryan was promoted within six months and built up a team. She shared that any opportunity can become a unique opportunity by taking the first step.

Be Yourself

Ryan recalled a formal presentation she made very early in her career, where she felt the weight of her rehearsed words. "I was nervous and had memorized the presentation to the point where I could recite the presentation in my sleep," she admitted.

However, the aftermath brought an unexpected twist. "After the presentation, I got the tough call from my colleagues asking where was I," she said. "It was as if they were listening to a stranger, too stuffy and too rehearsed."

Through this story, Ryan emphasized the importance of authenticity in leadership and personal development. It is important to be yourself and not someone you think you should be. Now, Ryan still prepares for her meetings and presentations as she believes in doing her homework but keeps in mind to be herself. "It’s the balancing act of being prepared and also trusting yourself and that things will flow in the way that it works," she said.

Think Beyond Self-Doubt

"Some days you are doing well and other days you’re doubting yourself and that’s alright. Surround yourself with the right support system." Ryan advises surrounding oneself with a supportive community. Be with people who not only encourage your growth but also point out your mistakes.

"Don’t get caught up in what you don’t know. Figure out what you’re good at...Ask as many questions as you can. Nobody knows everything, you learn as you go."

"Women have a bias to underestimate themselves," Ryan said. "Don’t underestimate yourself. You’re capable of a lot more than you realize."

Reflecting on her journey, Ryan now emphasizes, "So much of your job is not just textbook education; you can go so many directions," she said. "It’s a nonlinear journey so just believe in yourself, keep pursuing and pushing, and keep listening to yourself."

Story by Rucha Patel