Through PwC's "Aspire to Lead" program, the Department of Accounting and MIS hosted the company's live webcast with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and held an on-site panel discussion with University of Delaware and PwC leadership.

Aspirational women

Live webcast features Facebook COO, panel discussion with UD and PwC leaders

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8:03 a.m., May 6, 2014--With only six percent of CEO jobs held by women worldwide, it’s time corporate leaders mentor women, said Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, in a live webcast streamed to the University of Delaware campus on April 24.

“Do not underestimate your skills,” said Sandberg, who is also founder of LeanIn.Org and author of Lean In and Lean in for Graduates. “Confidence begets confidence. You can help create a more equal world where everyone sits at the table and all voices are heard.”

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Hosted by the Department of Accounting and MIS in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics, the webcast was the first event in the PwC Women’s Leadership Series, which includes programs and workshops hosted by PwC designed to provide university students and new professionals with the tools to help them build leadership skills.

“We can’t run this global network without women,” said Scott Jones, chair of the department. “Be yourself. Be frank. People appreciate it. Embrace the opportunity. Do not change anything about what you are.”

The main message of the webcast was to encourage the next generation of women to reach gender equality by reaching for their ambitions. From having a healthy personal life and balancing career and family to recognizing choices and connecting with peers, Sandberg emphasized the importance of being motivated.

“Adopt the mantra ‘proceed and be bold,’” said Sandberg. “Change your attitude from what you can get to what you can offer your company. Negotiate wisely. Bring long-term goals into short-term steps. Stay flexible and open to new paths.”

Terri McClements, PwC’s U.S. human capital leader and global talent leader, also shared her insights and experiences during the webcast, while Rachel Thomas, president of LeanIn.Org, offered tips for finding the right job, negotiating your first salary, and succeeding in your career.

Panel discussion

Following the webcast, a seasoned panel of women leaders spoke to University students about their careers and leadership experiences.

Deborah Hayes, vice president of UD’s Office of Communications and Marketing who previously served as managing director of communications for the Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia from 2002-11, said being the youngest in a family of six girls and finding inspiration from her parents led her to a successful career.

“I was always open to new opportunities,” said Hayes. “Be bold and fearless. You run your own race. You should define success in the way that makes you happy.”

Another panelist reflected on the lesson from her parents that “little girls are to be seen and not heard,” which in turn stirred a desire in herself to be successful.

“I had to bet on myself when I accepted an assignment in the U.K.,” said Jen Cain, overview current senior manager at PwC. “I had expected a promotion in the U.S. that year, so when I transferred, I had to reflect, work hard and ask for the promotion based on my performance. Initially they weren’t going to give me one, but they did.”

Added Lynsey Eppeneder, a certified public accountant and director of risk assurance at PwC, “We must continue to work hard and be seen as hard workers.”

Eppeneder also echoed Sandberg’s remarks in terms of balancing a career and family.

“You shouldn’t contemplate how it’s possible to have a family and a career, but instead, how long you should wait to start a family,” said Eppeneder to those who want both. “When is the best time to do such and such? Don’t worry in advance how you’re going to handle family responsibilities. Just do what you’re happy doing now and you’ll figure it out later.”

Julie Natale, assurance partner at PwC who was often asked who would take care of her kids once she became a partner at the company, agreed. 

“There may be times in your career when you want to step out or shorten your hours and then later step back in,” said Natale. “You can do that if you later have the opportunity – just make sure you will have that opportunity before you step out.”

Aspirational advice

William Cobourn, vice chairman of markets and sectors at PwC and a 1983 UD graduate, moderated the panel discussion and opened the floor for student questions at the conclusion of the event.

“If you could offer succinct advice to students on how to be successful in their careers, what would it be?” said Cobourn.

“In your first job, you’ll need to do that job really, really well – your very best,” said Natale. “You’ll get recognition and be noticed. Continue to maintain relationships that you started here at UD, too.”

A few panelists noted the importance of recognizing your own value.

“Tell yourself you can do this,” said Natale. “Why wouldn’t you want to make a difference to add value? It’s important to showcase your accomplishments. Believe in yourself and stand up for yourself.”

Cain also pointed out that being self-confident can be tricky but you need to keep perspective. 

“People can perceive that mean are leaders but women are bossy,” said Cain. “I’ve been told that I’m bossy, but I know I can’t take it personally.”

The panelists also talked about skills needed for navigating meetings.

“I have many meetings with men who tend to be loud and aggressive,” said Natale. “Women have the tendency to step out and wait for the occasion. Women need to be more assertive.”

Bruce Weber, dean of the Lerner College, added from the audience, “In meetings men and women have to meet halfway. There are many interruptions. Women usually do not interrupt men in meetings but women need to tell me not to interrupt them in meetings. It can be done.”

But most importantly, said the panelists, is to keep the motivation that Sandberg talked about.

“Trust your instincts,” said Cain. “Don’t be afraid. Take that risk and overcome those obstacles. Bet on yourself. You can do this.”

Article by Kathryn Meier

Photos by Doug Baker

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