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Women in Business Leadership

Balancing Life and Building Relationships: Lessons from Dallas’ Top Female Business Leaders

 Date published: Nov. 1, 2017

Women In BusinessWomen In BusinessWomen in BusinessThe Satish & Yasmin Gupta College of Business is one of the few business schools in the country whose name honors a woman business leader. And while Yasmin Gupta was ever so humble when approached about having the school named after her, she ultimately accepted, realizing the impact her name could have on the next generation of female leaders.

And the college is living up to her name.

Last month the University of Dallas hosted its first-ever Women in Business Leadership panel and networking event, bringing together some of the area’s top corporate women leaders to share their experiences with a packed room of UD students and alumni.

The panel included Ellen Barker, MBA ’94, chief information officer of Texas Instruments; Fanny Sheumaker, BA ’88 MBA ’91, vice president of Total Rewards, 7-Eleven Inc.; Beverly Goulet, recently retired executive vice president of American Airlines; and Danielle Agee, general counsel of the South Central Market of Verizon Wireless. The panel was moderated by Laura Munoz, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing.

The panel discussion covered topics ranging from professional influence to work-life balance. While each panelist’s story is unique — reinforcing the idea that there’s no secret formula to success — some lessons seemed to resonate with everyone, regardless of their stories

Follow your interests.

Each panelist shared a love and passion for their careers and encouraged others to pursue a career that makes them excited about going to work each day.

UD alumna Fanny Sheumaker, for example, began her career in a biology lab, but after a few years she realized the lab was not the place for her.

“I liked talking to people too much,” she joked. “My roommate at the time was getting her MBA and I can remember taking a look at her assignments and thinking ‘I can do that!’”

Fast forward to today: Sheumaker leads a team of HR executives at 7-Eleven. Two seats down from Sheumaker, Beverly Goulet added, “Do what you enjoy doing and do it well.”

Don’t just have a mentor.

Professional development often means finding a supervisor or co-worker to come alongside you in your career, but our panelists recommend not limiting yourself to just one “mentor.” Instead, they suggested trying to learn different skills from multiple colleagues.  

“Seek out the people who you think are doing a really good job and learn from them,” said Danielle Agee. “I’ve also found that the best professional relationships formed when I didn’t just have a mentor, but I had a sponsor — someone who was advocating for me.”

Go above and beyond, but find a balance.

“Early on I made a commitment to myself to develop personally and professionally in each role I was in,” said UD alumna Ellen Barker.

Ironically, that didn’t always mean saying ‘yes’ to every project that crossed her desk.

“There were times in my career where I had to decline managerial positions because I had young children at home.”

After decades of experience, each panelist stressed the importance of finding balance in life and spending quality time with family.

Find value in building relationships.

The advice was pretty simple: “Be a good teammate,” said Beverly Goulet. “You spend 90 percent of your time with your colleagues inside the office. Listen to others, check your tone of voice in meetings, encourage your peers to weigh in.”

Getting to know your colleagues outside of the typical meetings and email exchanges allows you to not only learn more about your co-workers, but also makes you more approachable by others.

“I think sometimes we think we can’t be an influence to others, but I want to encourage you that you can be a positive influence and you can make a difference,” said Barker. “Bring your whole, authentic self and let those natural skills come through.”

Interested in learning more about leadership? Professor J. Lee Whittington, Ph.D. weighs in on the importance of ethical leadership.