Celebrating leadership and diversity on International Women's Day

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The Kelley School of Business Indianapolis celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 by announcing our partnership with Talent Nexus, a community-based mentoring initiative.

The day culminated with an inspirational talk on the topic #BeBoldForChange, by Sharon Barner, VP and General Counsel for Cummins, Inc.

Sharon started by talking about diversity, explaining, she didn't understand why some people struggle with diversity. She said, "I’ve been a woman and an African American my whole life, and I am totally comfortable with that."

But early on, even in high school, she noticed there weren’t people like her in positions of leadership. 

She decided to do two things about that: She would become a leader, and she would make sure that others followed in her path.

It turns out, she has fulfilled that commitment to herself. Sharon made sure she was replaced by other women and diverse people in each role that she has taken.

She repeated the process from high school and from a top law firm in Chicago, again at the US Patent and Trademark Office and more recently at Cummins Inc.

Photos from top left: professor Julie Manning Magid introduces Sharon Barner; a group listens at the Kelley/Talent Nexus event; Kelley faculty, Evening MBA students and staff listen to Sharon Barner during her discussion.

In fact, the Minority Corporate Counsel Association (MCCA) named Cummins the 2014 Employer of Choice for the Midwest Region of the United States. MCCA’s Employer of Choice Award honors general counsel and their law departments for their success in internal and external diversity and inclusion initiatives.

So what does it take to #BeBoldForChange? Sharon shared a few ideas with us:

1. Recognize that a leader’s purpose is to create opportunities for others. When you are in a leadership position, you have to look around and find people you can lift up. Sometimes, that means thinking broadly about what great performance is. Sometimes, that means changing the lens through which you view the world. And sometimes, that means fishing in a different pond. It’s not that great people don’t exist. Sometimes we have to change where we look for them.

2. Make the difficult look easy by believing in your work. Was it easy to find diverse lawyers to add to the staff at each organization where Sharon was a leader? No, it was not. But her bosses often commented that she made it look easy. That, she said, was because she believed in what she was doing. You have to start by being resolute about what you want to accomplish.

3. You can’t just attract diverse employees: you have to give them challenging and complex work. Then you have to give them a chance to be visible in the organization for their accomplishments. Without meaningful work and recognition, they won’t stay. Everyone wants to feel their tasks are “do your best” tasks.

Other Kelley faculty, staff, students and alumni also attended the event to hear from Sharon on International Women's Day. Julie Manning Magid, associate professor of business law, introduced her.

"Sharon is not only an inspiration for her personal achievements, but also for working diligently to promote an inclusive environment so others have the opportunity to achieve,” said Julie Manning Magid. “She emphasized building a culture where everyone can win."

Although Sharon didn’t quite say this, I felt she implied that you also have to never give up. Your resoluteness can be inspiring to others; being constant in your efforts to create change is the best way to be bold.

So now, I am asking myself – how am I going to #BeBoldForChange?

As a start, we’re engaging in a mentoring program with Diverse Talent Strategies (DTS) Talent Nexus. One of DTS’ studies shows mentoring is particularly important for women and underrepresented groups in the workplace, because they often face additional challenges in obtaining employment and moving up to positions of leadership.

Our goal at Kelley Indianapolis is to inspire women to find their own true success. We believe this partnership with Talent Nexus is the next step in enabling them to be a successful part of the business community.

Your network is critical: Whether that’s finding your first job out of college, or later in your career as you seek quality employees. We want to train women and men on how to seek out mentors and increase their potential for success.

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Kelley Evening MBA students gather for a photo after an event.