Young women receive career advice at Catawba

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Local businesswomen who spoke Monday evening at Catawba College urged young women just starting in their careers to find mentors.
The first endeavor of the Developing Emerging Professionals series was entitled “What You Need to Know to Succeed,” and was aimed at Catawba’s female students.
“The purpose of this event is to make female students more aware of what to expect when they get into the workforce,” said Mona Lisa Wallace, a Catawba trustee who entered the workforce some 35 years ago.
Darlene Ball ’62, the board’s first female chair, served as moderator for the panel, which also included Karen Kirks Alexander, founder and president of KKA Architecture; Karen Gaskill ’92, a CPA who is payroll tax manager for Delhaize America; Rori Godsey ’07, a customer service representative for F&M; Kyna Grubb ’89, executive director for Rowan Helping Ministries; Dr. Jolene Henning ’96, chair of the department of athletic training at High Point University; Abby Kerr ’72, a trustee and financial advisor with Ameriprise Financial Services of Charlotte.
The majority of the students who attended were sophomores, but all classes were represented, along with a variety of majors and sports.
Wallace, a founding partner with Wallace and Graham Law Firm, shared statistics from a recent survey conducted by the Pew Charitable Trust regarding workplace inequities. The survey found that women are making 84 percent of the same wage as men.
“You still do not have parity,” Wallace said. “You have near-parity with men.”
Yet more women ages 25-32 have college degrees than men, 38 percent compared to 31 percent.
“Why are we still not equal?” Wallace asked. “Women are hesitant to push for raises or promotions.”
She added, “There’s so many things I’d do differently. I would have found a mentor.”
Godsey spoke on doing even the small things right. She grew up in Maryland, one of six daughters.
“We really had to work hard in getting things we wanted to get,” she said.
Godsey worked at McDonald’s, and made sure she was on time to work every day, and strictly adhered to the company dress code. When she graduated from high school, her managers told her she could continue to work summers and holidays to get money for school. This typically was not the case for employees who went on to college.
“You never know when you’re on a ‘job interview’,” Godsey said.
For instance, she took a front desk job at a local gym, arriving promptly for her 4:30-8:30 a.m. shift, making sure she had a smile for every customer. When she told one woman she was leaving to take a job at a bank, the woman told her she wanted her on her team at F&M. She’d been watching Godsey make coffee, interact with members, sweep the floor, fold towels — doing all the small things right.
“It doesn’t matter what you’re doing,” Godsey said. “Keep doing the little things right. It will pay off.”
Gaskill also believes doing the small stuff is important. When she took an entry-level job, she said, she was thrilled to be asked to make copies. She was constantly asking for something to do, and soon found herself being asked to visit clients. She realized later that, because she had done well with the small tasks, she was soon entrusted with more important responsibilities.
Kerr built on those remarks, emphasizing ethics and principles, which should go beyond doing what’s legal to being fair and honest in all that you do.
“You know when something doesn’t feel right?” she asked. “Everybody has a gut instinct. The first thing that guides you is your personal integrity.”
“Your reputation endures, whether it’s good or bad,” she noted. “So get out there and do the right thing, and I know you’ll be successful.”
Alexander, a member of Salisbury City Council, centered her remarks on self-confidence. The fact that she married early and had a child sidetracked her plans of becoming an architect. She went to a community college and pursued drafting, and soon found herself in the male-dominated world of architecture.
She knew she’d have to work harder, and spent her Saturdays — young son in tow — photographing building projects around town to figure out how all the parts and pieces went together.
Alexander suggested setting achievable goals, setting aside time for fun and working to achieve spiritual centeredness by meditating, praying or enjoying the outdoors. Fear, she said, can be harnessed to fuel your passion.
“Don’t put limits on your abilities,” she said. “You’ve got to have a mastering of skills to make you confident. Feeling self-confident is a continual battle. When you do something new, you need practice. I didn’t say much when I was first on council. Now they can’t keep me from talking.”
Grubb encouraged mentoring.
“One of the things women don’t do a good job of is helping other women,” she said. “It’s great if you can find a female willing to be your mentor. Spend a lot of time listening. There’s a lot to be learned from people who have gone before you.”
Mentoring, she said, “is not gossiping. It’s affirming others, helping people succeed and celebrating successes. You grow when you help someone grow.”
Don’t be afraid, she said, to ask for a formal mentoring relationship.
Henning spoke on balancing home, work and self. She is now the mother of two young daughters, but said with an entry-level job comes the opportunity to get yourself established in your career. You can work long hours early on, but your priorities shift once you have a family, she said. She turned down the opportunity to become an associate dean, and said it was certainly OK to do that.
Henning said that a good support system was absolutely necessary to balance family and career.
“You can’t do it all, and you can’t do it alone,” said Henning, who helps keep herself balanced with exercise, daily devotion and weekly Bible study.
The panel was well received by the young women.
“I think this was a great event,” said junior Sloan Kessler, who’s majoring in sustainable business. “We all need reassurance from women in the field.”
Sarah Moore ’12 of Mocksville works for the college’s Center for the Environment. She is getting married in May and starting graduate school in August.
“I knew some of the topics would be about balance,” she said. “I’m trying to learn from these women because sometimes, you’re the only lady in the room. I got a lot of really great advice. This was very helpful.”
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.