Asked why she thought networking events for women are important, Amelia Davidson ’20 paused for a second before answering with a story.
“I wouldn’t necessarily identify myself as a feminist, but there are certain statements that are (sometimes) made in the workplace that aren’t made to other individuals,” Davidson, neuroscience major, said. “For example, any time I talk about my potential career people ask me immediately about how my family structure is going to reflect that. I was 18 the first time I was asked that … And I would highly doubt a male of 18 years old gets asked that question.”
The opportunity to share those kinds of experiences frankly with people who may have experienced something similar was one of the reasons Betsy Rice ’20 organized Furman’s inaugural Women’s Networking Event, which took place Sept. 19 in Younts Conference Center. Another was a desire for other young women to form relationships like the one she has with one of the event’s panelists, Shelly Dodson.
Dodson is first vice president of commercial real estate company CBRE in Greenville and Rice’s mentor. An urban studies major, Rice also wants to work in commercial real estate, and being Dodson’s intern since March has helped her visualize life in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field.
She wants others to be able to visualize it, too.
“Commercial real estate is 80-90 percent male. I really only know three of four brokers in the Greenville area who are females,” Rice said. “She’s doing what I want to do, and seeing someone do that is really empowering.”
More than 100 women attended the free event, and joining Dodson as panelists were Meghan Barp (president and CEO of United Way of Greenville County), moderator Kathy McKinney (shareholder at Greenville law firm Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd) and Furman President Elizabeth Davis. Davidson helped Rice put the evening together, and Davis’ presence alone made the time and effort worth it to her.
“I love President Davis. I’m probably one of her biggest fans,” Davidson said “It’s kind of dorky, but she was there, and that was super exciting to have a president who believed in our event enough to take time out of her evening to come and attend.”
She also gave some comforting advice to the aspiring scientist.
“A woman is not going to be nearly as readily accepting of a six-year Ph.D. pathway if they’re told that they need to prioritize family rather than realizing that the two can work. That was something that Dr. Davis continually pressed upon: You can make this work,” Davidson, the president of Furman’s Women in STEM organization, said. “It might be different than what other people do but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. That was an extremely beautiful thought. There’s stuff like that that I think needs to be addressed and something that you can do in a networking place, because it already has that professional feel.”
Rice, a Nashville native, said she came up with idea for the Women’s Networking Event in the spring of 2018 after attending similar functions in Greenville.
“Other schools and universities do have large networking events focused on women, but Furman didn’t have anything,” Rice said. “It just seemed like something we would do, so I decided to take the initiative.”
She realized she couldn’t put something so large together on her own, however, and reached out to Davidson and Bailey Votto ’19 for help as well as Furman chief of staff Liz Seman, who ended up advising her.
“It’s a topic I’m certainly passionate about. Like many of our Furman students, she was really impressive about the idea that she had and people she had already started reaching out to. It was an easy thing to say yes to,” Seman said. “I’ve been very fortunate to have women in my life who have mentored me and have supported me in my own leadership, and one of the things that we have an opportunity to do here at Furman with our students is to help them make the same kind of connections. One of the backbones of The Furman Advantage is this idea of mentors and advisors not only while you’re in school but for life.”
Plans for the second annual Furman Women’s Networking Event are already in the works. One important lesson Rice learned was the sooner you reach out to potential corporate sponsors the better. Another is making the speakers more accessible.
“Something we’re looking into next year is mentoring. I heard from the students that they were intimidated by the speakers so much that they wouldn’t introduce themselves,” Rice said. “So I’m going to look more into different ways that we can pair up mentoring groups or one-on-one mentors or something like that.”
One thing that won’t change, however, is fostering an atmosphere of honest communication.
“There were some very candid opinions on the panel,” she said. “Just being able to talk woman to woman, being able to say this is how it is and how I overcame it and this is advice I have, is important.”