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Lesson Plan

by Caroline Yuki Yang

In 2000, MBA candidates Tricia Mitchell-Kim and Jennifer Lange launched the inaugural Women in Leadership Conference (known as WILC) at the Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University. With few female role models in business and even fewer in-class case studies, the two Rice Business students believed that Rice Business should be the site of an event that not only highlighted female leaders but invited them to network in person with students. Ever since, Rice MBA students have passed the WILC planning torch from one class to the next. In 2020, WILC sold out a week in advance, with over 500 attendees and nearly 200 companies represented. Here, MBA student Caroline Yuki Yang describes what she gained at the 2020 gathering.

Early on the morning of the WILC conference I was excited and ready. I got up at 4:30 a.m., knocked out my work emails in time for the 7:00 a.m. breakfast, and just before setting out, updated my Facebook status: “Happy Valentine’s Day, ladies. Celebrating with Women in Leadership Conference 20th Anniversary, love yourself, love and protect your dreams.” 

I was right to have been excited. The conference began with a truly extraordinary speaker: corporate CEO and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Ann Fox, who told us about her service experience, including how she was able to save an innocent life due to her different perspective from male colleagues. 

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With each subsequent speaker, I found myself even more challenged, energized and more focused on my goals. Surrounded by female and male role models, I felt my career dreams had been reignited. In the words of ending keynote speaker Sandy Asch: “I am ready to be bold and roar.” Below are some of the most memorable words, dashed down in my notebook as I listened to these powerful talks. 

Ann Fox, President and CEO at Nine Energy Services: 

  • Consider the opinions and thoughts of others, listen to their perspective.
  • Become your own keynote, create more keynotes and remember, as the twig you can be flexible and bend, but never broken. 
  • Do not make people choose between work and their families. 

Sruba De, Vice President of Global Retail Insights & Solutions at MasterCard Advisors:

  • Leadership requires three main things: powerful communication, the ability to influence and thriving outside your comfort zone. 
  • Speak with intention and clarity. Think about what you want people to remember about your words. 
  • Influence is about convincing others to share your intentional goals.

Tandra Jackson, Vice-Chair of Growth and Strategy at KPMG US: 

  • The biggest barrier in my career was my own mindset. You need to shift your mindset to go further. Don’t just focus on what’s working and keeping things the same. 
  • What I would tell my 21-year-old self is to have a network. Surround yourself with different people. You never know how the dots are going to connect. 
  • When making difficult decisions, know yourself and know how the decision impacts your ecosystem: business and personal. 

Gigi Lindberg, Vice President, Commercial Relationship Manager at BBVA 

  • I sold Turkish wine at Michelin star restaurants and people asked me, “How did I get into these restaurants?” I said, “Talk to the right people.” 
  • Use Mel Robbin's 5-second rule to center yourself.

Larry Perkins, Associate Vice President, Talent and Diversity, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center:

  • Leadership is a sport. There’s going to be conflict.
  • Diversity is a fact. Inclusion is an act.
  • Be deliberate and intentional. 

Lynda Clemmons, Vice President, Sustainable Solutions at NRG Energy

  • Think about how your message is heard and effectively communicate.

Sandy Asch, CEO of Sandy Asch and author of the best-selling book, Roar:

  • To be bold and influence change you must Velcro to your purpose, be radically transparent, respond – don’t react, and embrace your fears and failures. 

I hope my takeaways above will nourish you as much as they have nourished me. In fact, in the months after the conference, something interesting has happened: many of the lessons I gathered there have grown more – rather than less – vivid. In some cases, though I remember the concept, I no longer recalled the speaker or the moment when I heard them. 

So, with apologies and thanks to the participants who shared these ideas, here are paraphrases of three or more of the lessons that have most helped me after my day at WILC:

  • Know where you want to go, then communicate to others that that’s where you belong. 
  • How you respond to people under stress says a lot about leadership; people are watching. 
  • And finally, maybe the easiest lesson to memorize but the one that may take a lifetime to absorb: there’s no such thing as failure – only feedback. 

I hope the ideas I’ve shared will inspire you as much as they inspired me. I encourage you to attend the next WILC.


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