By Jordan Mann, E&W 2021
VP, Strategy, E&W WBA
March 6, 2020 was the last time I was inside Wieboldt Hall. It was the Evening & Weekend Women’s Business Association’s celebration of International Women’s Day: a happy hour with more than 50 students and alumnae. I will never forget it; I was thrilled by the turnout and the conversations being had, but quietly worried about the virus we’d been hearing about with increasing frequency. I remember encouraging attendees to elbow bump instead of hug, which was abnormal at the time.
It goes without saying that much has changed since last year’s Women’s History Month. The challenges and tragedies we’ve faced have been well-documented, and span beyond the incredible trials of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a country, we have not only been battling an invisible virus, but we have also been reckoning with the systemic racism that plagues us while also seeing a dramatic exodus of women from corporate America. Progress has been made to tackle each of these challenges, but there’s much more work to do.
Reflecting on the Kellogg community
While 2020 will no doubt be remembered for many heartbreaking changes, I want to reflect on one constant, and a few positive changes that emerged.
Like most people, I don’t really like change, so I’ll start with what is the same today as it was one year ago: the sense of community at Kellogg. The support I feel from both the Evening & Weekend Women’s Business Association and the Kellogg community as a whole has been constant. Though we have not been able to hug (let alone be in the same room) in more than a year, I still feel close to my fellow WBA board members. I have formed real friendships with women I have never met in person and continued to develop my leadership skills in a virtual setting.
With that said, there’s no doubt that some things have changed since last March.
We are more flexible.
Our mission (supporting the personal and professional development of the womxn and committed allies of the Kellogg community) may have “bent” when we switched to a virtual format, but it did not break. We have actually increased the amount of programming offered year over year by almost 50% since switching to the virtual format. Though we’d of course love to be in person, Zoom allows us to quickly and efficiently create content for our members. We also expanded the size of our board, which has given leadership opportunities to more folks who want them.
We are more innovative.
As a veteran member of the board, nothing makes me prouder than seeing a newer member share an idea and execute it. With virtual events, there are no geographic constraints, and our team has been using that to our advantage. Between Bollywood Dance lessons from Miami-based Monica Vaswani and career advice from C-Suite leaders based all over the U.S., WBA members have had intimate access to experiences that would not have been feasible in prior years. Instead of doing one day of celebration for International Women’s Day, we created a month of diverse programming. We even co-hosted a virtual event with our counterpart club at the University of Chicago’s business school Booth, a first for both organizations.
We are braver.
In March 2020, we created a position for the WBA board focused on allyship. This VP and her committee have been focused on enhancing our partnerships with male allies (also known as Manbassadors) and other affinity clubs at Kellogg. The team has done great work, creating a pledge for Manbassadors to sign, Zoom backgrounds to represent their affiliation, and specific programming for male-identifying students. And we not only had events for under-represented communities in venture capital, but we also had a group discussion about race co-hosted by Kellogg’s Evening & Weekend Black Management Association and Hispanic Management Association. For the past several years, I have been committed to acknowledging the inherent privilege I have as a straight, white woman and becoming a better ally. I’m very grateful that WBA has given me an avenue to explore and develop these skills.
On a personal note, there’s no doubt I’m more hopeful and grateful than I was a year ago. (My idea of “business casual” has changed too, as you can tell by my photo.) As vaccines become more widely available and our members can meet again in Wieboldt Hall, I am confident that the WBA will embrace these changes and keep this enhanced spirit of being more flexible, innovative, and brave than we were in the past.
…But believe me, I will be hugging my friends as soon as I possibly can safely do so.