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Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid To Apply For Roles You’re Not 100% Ready For

An interview with Rebecca Cook, Executive Director, Career Services at Indiana University – Kelley School of Business

What does International Women’s Day represent to you personally?  

To me, it’s a day where we celebrate all of the fabulous females that we know and work with.  It is a day of recognition of how far women have come in the work force, and the opportunities that still lie ahead of us.

In what ways do you think women have made progress over the years, and where do you see room for more progress? 

Women have definitely made progress in the workforce, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.  Women have significantly increased their presence in the workforce, as start up founders and as high level leaders.  It is a lot easier to say today that younger women have role models to look up to, because we are seeing many more women moving higher up the ladder as well as leading companies.  However, that percentage is still quite small compared to the percentage of male leaders and we’ve been still been seeing women leaving the workforce at high levels.  Recent news articles highlight that women are leaving their organizations at some of the highest rates ever seen due to being undercompensated, overworked, and microaggressions towards their knowledge and expertise.  According to recent research by McKinsey in their “Women in the Workplace” report, women leaders are feeling burned out at a much higher rate then male leaders and then leaving their organizations, which decreased diversity and impacts younger women who are striving to move up the ladder.  According to the research, “for every two women stepping into a director-level leadership role, two are choosing to leave”. 

Who are the women who have been influential in your life or who you look up to as role models? 

I’m lucky in that I’ve had several wonderful and strong women to look up to throughout my life and career.  My mother stayed home to raise my sister and me, but then went back to work and eventually ran a large Audubon nature center, raising a significant amount of money to build a LEED certified central building and start a nature-based preschool.  In my first career in investment management, I worked in an office that was half men/half women, which is very rare in that industry.  One of our top leaders was a woman who rose up from a first role as a secretary to running an $8b mutual fund, all while raising two fantastic children.  In my second career in higher education at Kelley, we had an extremely impressive woman as our Dean for 11 years, Idie Kesner, who has been recognized many times over for how amazing of a Dean she is/was.  She took our school to a new level and the next Dean has very big shoes to fill.

Have you faced any particular challenges or obstacles as a woman in business education, and how did you overcome them?  

Definitely.  When I first came back to Kelley after a 13 year career in investment management (I’m an MBA from here), I worked with our MBA students focused on careers in the investment industry, as well as taught several investment management related courses.  Through these roles, I worked with several faculty members, some of whom had experience working in the investment space and some whose research focus was on the industry.  It took several years for some of them to accept that I knew what I was doing and that I came in with a lot of expertise.  I overcame this through building strong relationships with the students and other faculty members, as well as showcasing and using my expertise to train the students and help connect them to industry professionals.  I also took a more direct approach to dealing with the doubting faculty, pushing back on areas where I felt I was being discounted because I was female.  Over time, we developed a mutual respect and were able to work very successfully together.  

As a senior leader in the industry, what advice would you give to women who are just starting their career in business education? 

Keep at it!  Learn the politics of your organization, but be creative and push yourself outside of your comfort zone.  Don’t be afraid to apply for roles that you may not be 100% (or even 50%) ready for.  You may not get the role, but it signals to those higher up that you are looking for new challenges and opportunities.  Get involved with either internal or external organizations in your space (or both), as this is a great way to build your knowledge, connect with many wonderful people, and expand your influence.  For example, I got involved with the MBA CSEA shortly after I moved into the higher education space.  I joined the global conference committee because I was looking for a way to build connections and found the network to be incredibly sharing and giving (which is not anything like it is in the investment management industry).  I ended up running a committee, then chairing the conference, then becoming president of the organization.  I found people that I could compare notes with, commiserate with, and ideate with and it opened up so many connections that could lead to different roles in the future.

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