Duke - The Fuqua School of Business

Feature Story

Real World Leadership Lessons

C200 ReachOut Conference discusses challenges facing women in business

April 04, 2013

Since the release of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's recent book Lean In, media outlets from CNN to The New York Times have been discussing how women operate in the workplace.  Opinions about Sandberg's ideas have been differing, strong, and passionate.

With the recent focus in the media, MBA student Leslee Giles says it is especially important for people to engage in an honest and open discussion about women in business.

"In an appropriate forum, it allows for transparent conversations and best practice exchanges that give both men and women the opportunity to develop better working relationships, "Giles said.

Giles is a member of Duke's Association of Women in Business (AWIB) that  helped organize the C200 ReachOut Conference at Fuqua on April 3rd. 

The Committee of 200, known as C200, is an exclusive invitation-only organization for women who are successful entrepreneurs or corporate leaders. Part of the C200 mission is to help educate and grow the next generation of women business leaders, which was the motivation behind the Fuqua event. 

Giles says she feels lucky C200 decided to bring their annual MBA event to Fuqua's campus.  

"This is a great opportunity for the Fuqua community to interact and learn from these women, who have practical experience in many of the situations we learn about daily in our classes," Giles said, "Their candid conversations provide practical advice on navigating challenges specific to women."

DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman opened the conference by speaking to an auditorium full of both men and women. Kullman talked about her career and how having both a science background and an MBA helped her develop the skills needed to lead DuPont.

At one point, the conversation turned more personal. Kullman was asked how she maintains a healthy work life balance.

"I think the word balance is a terrible word. I don't think it exists," Kullman said. Instead, Kullman prefers "flexibility." She said she doesn't dedicate a set number of hours to work or family adding, "you just have to set your priorities."  Kullman said at any given time one or the other may need more attention.

"There are times when life happens and you've got to deal with it. There are times when work happens and you've got to deal with it," Kullman said.

Kullman also told the group she has a "no regrets" policy and once she makes a decision she moves on instead of dwelling on the past.

Kimberly Jenkins also spoke at the conference. Jenkins is the Director of Duke in the Silicon Valley and   has extensive experience in entrepreneurship.  Jenkins spoke to the group about opportunities and challenges in innovation and entrepreneurship.

The conference also featured panels about topics like fostering the entrepreneurial mindset, making and maintaining relationships, and tradeoffs and compromises.