Young Alumnae Return to McIntire to Talk Value, Ambition, and Gender at Work

The panel helped to advance the idea behind Commerce for the Common Good by emphasizing the importance of workplace diversity and inclusion and by sharing practical approaches to foster gender equality and address gender inequity.

When McIntire launched its Commerce for the Common Good courses, a series of classes centered on the intersection of business and society, the intent was to provide students with an even more comprehensive education that advances the School’s intent of developing global citizens who address significant challenges and positively impact society.

Supported in large part by John P. Connaughton (McIntire ’87) and Stephanie F. Connaughton, three courses kicked off the initiative: Race in Commerce, taught by Professors Steven L. Johnson and Andrea Roberts; Reimagining Global Capitalism, with Professor Peter Maillet; and Value, Ambition, and Gender in the Work Arena, taught by Adelaide Wilcox King and Professors Felicia Marston.

The latter class, which studies essential issues concerning lower representation of women in senior business leadership positions and the resulting effect on organizations and professionals, has included sessions with esteemed guest Comm alumnae speakers including Shannon Nash (McIntire ’92, Law ’95), Chief Financial Officer of Wing (an Alphabet company), and Amanda Richardson (McIntire ’01) CEO of CoderPad. In addition, Erin Russell (McIntire ’96) has been instrumental in launching the class, providing valuable input in its development and supporting its culminating project in which each student will research a topic related to gender in the workplace and connect with an experienced professional to interview on the subject.

King and Marston’s course recently welcomed a distinguished and diverse group of young McIntire alumnae—Faith Lyons Burns (McIntire ’16), Olivia Goff (McIntire ’22), Joy Jefferson Gross (McIntire ’17), and Sydney Peoples (McIntire ’20)—for a panel discussion. Representing a range of graduation years and different career tracks including accounting, marketing, finance, and consulting, the alumnae aimed to facilitate discussions covering significant topics such as their transition from college to working life, their experiences as women in business, and other relevant and related aspects of career development, says Marston.

“Additionally, we aimed to offer a platform for students to learn from the experiences and perspectives of these successful women navigating competitive business environments,” says Kate Pausic (McIntire ’24), who serves as King’s TA and helped the professors organize the panel. “Panelists delved into their mentorship experiences, highlighting the significant impact mentors have had on their careers and explaining the differences between mentorship and sponsorship in the workplace. Additionally, they emphasized the importance of negotiation and self-advocacy for women in business,” she notes. “Specifically, panelists shared their practice of ‘measuring their value’ by documenting their performance and project contributions and leveraging this data during negotiations for compensation and other benefits.”

The panel helped to advance the idea behind Commerce for the Common Good “by emphasizing the business value of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and by sharing practical strategies for promoting gender equality and overcoming gender inequality in careers where it may be particularly prevalent,” says King. “By equipping our students with this mindset and these skills, they can contribute to the efforts towards a more inclusive and equitable business world.”

Adelaide Wilcox King says the panel helped to advance the idea behind Commerce for the Common Good.

Finding Sponsors, Mentors, and Confidence

Panelist Goff, an Investment Banking Analyst at Harris Williams in Richmond, VA, says that while each panelist’s professional experiences proved to be vastly different from one another, there were some common themes: “finding strength in one’s own unique voice and perspective, growth from consistently leaning into challenges and the discomfort that may come with it, and the importance of cultivating and maintaining professional relationships,” she says.

The importance of both mentorship and sponsorship and the difference between the two resonated most with panelist Burns, Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company in Washington, DC. “Mentors are incredibly valuable—especially early in your career. However, as you progress in your career, it is critical to find individuals who not only provide guidance and advice but who will also open doors for you,” she says, explaining that sponsorship requires that both the sponsor and the person being sponsored must be active participants. “I have been fortunate to have found sponsors who have provided opportunities for me to take risks, been both cheerleaders and trusted sources of feedback (especially challenging feedback!), and supported me in personal and professional transitions. In return, these sponsors are people I have championed and supported in their professional journeys,” says Burns.

Student Jamie Morrison (McIntire ’24) references Burns’ thoughts about having multiple sponsors and mentors, noting that discussions about mentorship and sponsorship often arise in the class and that all of the panelists “mentioned that a key component of their ability to receive promotions was obtaining strong mentors and sponsors.”

“Burns explained that having both perspectives is critical to helping you advance your career, because one person’s strategy may not be a perfect fit,” Morrison says.

For panelist Peoples, Associate Director, Growth Strategy at Publicis Groupe in New York, NY, the conversation covered a great deal of important issues, but talking about advocating for yourself and the idea of “faking-it-til-you-make-it” were particularly crucial topics.

“Especially as a woman—and for me, as a Black woman—it can be easy to doubt yourself and feel a sense of imposter syndrome,” Peoples says, recalling how when she began her career, she was intimidated about voicing her opinion or worrying that her questions would seem dumb. “It all felt very unknown, and that ambiguity can be tricky to navigate. Luckily though, I had great mentors who I learned from and who helped me find clarity in those situations.”

She shared some practical advice for the students, including the idea to write everything down, from what task she completed, to who the stakeholders involved were and what impact it made. “Getting into the practice of nailing my elevator pitch for every project has been an invaluable tool for me. Up for a promotion? Great, you have a list to point to of all the work you’ve done and its impact. Need to refresh your resume? Easy, your two- to three-sentence blurbs are already prepared for you. Looking for a switch-up in your current role? Skim through your list: What projects did you enjoy doing, which ones didn’t you? It seems simple, but it’s been an incredibly useful practice as I’ve navigated the early years of my career,” Peoples says.

Morrison says that learning about how and when to negotiate was particularly insightful, as employers have long paid female employees less than their male counterparts. “Sydney Peoples brought up the fact that New York now requires companies to disclose the salaries of all their employees to ensure no discrimination occurs. As someone moving to New York next year and beginning a career in finance, it was extremely insightful to know these laws and what I am entitled to know,” she says, mentioning Peoples’ comments about showing factual evidence when negotiating salary.

The second piece of advice Peoples shared came from her mother when she was “a cripplingly shy nine-year-old.”

“‘No one knows what’s going on in your head, and if you pretend to be confident, people will think you are.’ This is advice I go back to all the time, and it still rings true,” she says. “If you walk into a room like you deserve to be there and you speak with conviction, people believe in you, which opens you up to more visibility and opportunities in the long run. It’s through this ‘faked’ confidence that I was able to be a presenter for the Promotions team my fourth year at McIntire, get considered for fast-tracked promotion opportunities, and even have the courage to speak on this panel!”

Making Strides

As part of McIntire’s Commerce for the Common Good initiative, King and Marston’s course, and indeed, the panel they hosted, underscored the critical need to explore issues such as those discussed during the panel.


Felicia Marston says the alumnae facilitated discussions covering significant topics such as their transition from college to working life and their experiences as women in business.

“I’m hopeful the real-world stories and experiences of young alumnae will encourage course participants to thoughtfully engage with the topics taught in Value, Ambition, and Gender in the Work Arena when they enter the workforce next year and support them in navigating the first few years of their own professional experience,” says Burns. “Stories are a powerful tool for learning, and I’m hopeful that the stories and anecdotes shared will be beneficial in their own journeys.”

Goff credited King and Marston with “thoughtfully designing the course to give students the knowledge, tools, and empowerment to succeed in any career path, as well as the confidence to challenge others to be cognizant of gender dynamics and collectively work to effect change in the work arena.”

That change remains top of mind for student Nicole Garibaldi (McIntire ’24), who acknowledges that while women have made great strides in many industries such as consulting and accounting, referencing Burns’ firsthand account of seeing ongoing growth of women in managing director positions, she sees room for improvement elsewhere: “It seems as though finance is still behind the times in terms of the women-to-men ratio. I hope to see this change in the future, and I think McIntire is at the forefront of this movement.”

For Morrison, the panel provided her and her classmates with practical, insightful guidance about navigating the workplace as a female analyst. “I’ll certainly use their advice about mentorship, negotiation, and confidence as I begin my career after graduation,” she says. “Overall, this course at McIntire is a great way to help young women enter the workforce. So far, I have learned so much about how to navigate workplace situations that are not normally discussed in a classroom setting.”

Peoples was pleased to hear from a range of panelists and students. “It was quite a treat to see two male grad students in the course eager to learn more about gender in the workplace,” she says. “It’s heartening to know that there are classes dedicated to these kinds of topics at the Comm School, especially for fourth-year and graduate students who are about to enter the workforce, and I’m hopeful that participating in these conversations will help them be more conscious and capable leaders throughout their careers, post-McIntire.”

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