By Lacie Blankenship
The Women’s Business Association (WBA) at Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management proudly hosted the inaugural Women’s Leadership Summit in August 2023. This milestone event united Nashville business leaders and industry experts, some of whom were Vanderbilt Business alumnae, with aspiring business professionals.
Liz Eason (MBA’24), WBA VP of Alumni Relations, co-founded the Women’s Leadership Summit alongside classmates Avani Gangavelli (MBA‘24), WBA President, and Rachel Wilson (MBA‘24) WBA Executive Vice President. “I felt there was a critical opportunity to empower the incoming class of women business leaders through conversation and engagement with various alumni and Nashville women executives.”
What is WBA?
WBA, or the Women’s Business Association, is a student-led organization that strives to create an inclusive and empowering environment for all women within Vanderbilt Business. WBA promotes and supports women within all Vanderbilt Business programs by fostering community, encouraging personal development, and providing opportunities for professional development. WBA programming includes educational workshops, mentorship opportunities, lunch and learns, community service events, and social events.
2023 Women’s Leadership Summit
Rachel Wilson (MBA’24), Executive Vice President, WBA, delivered opening remarks and introduced Beth Torres, President and CEO, Make-A-Wish Foundation of America, the morning keynote speaker. Torres was followed by a series of panel sessions that brought together women business leaders to share their expertise, experiences, and visions for the future. Learn more about the different Women’s Leadership Summit sessions below.
Empowering Women Together
Moderated by Eason, the first panel of the day was a powerful discussion on Empowering Women Together. This session emphasized the value of collaboration and mentorship in advancing women’s careers. Panelists included Margaret Hart, Head of Nashville Label and Industry Partnerships, YouTube, Sonia Axter, Managing Director, Head of Asset Management, Ullico Infrastructure Management Company, Evelyn Ortiz, Investment Banking Associate, Wells Fargo Bank, and Laura Wright Alexander, Senior Vice President, Creative, Young Guns Publishing.
The Raising Capital panel delved into common challenges women face when seeking financial resources for ventures. Moderated by Julia Schuller (MBA’24), the panel’s speakers were Jamie Ikerd (MBA’15), Chief Operating Officer, Built Technologies, Brittani Roberts (MBA’19), Principal, FINTOP Capital, Deanna Meador, CEO, Couture Technologies, Deputy Director, The Wond’ry, and Yesi Sevilla, Director, Strategic Engagement and Ecosystem Development, The Wond’ry.
Pivot at Any Point
Amrita Keswani (MBA’24), moderated the Pivot at Any Point panel, which focused on adaptability, resilience, and career evolution. Panelists included Sarah Lackore (MBA’12), HR Business Partner, Mars Petcare, Corbette Doyle (EMBA’87) of Havarti Risk Services, Laura Clauss, Opening Director of Sales and Marketing, 1 Hotels, and Cassandra Lawrence (MBA’18), Product Manager, Experian Health.
Advocating for Your Career
Moderated by Gabriela Moran (MBA’24), the Advocating for Your Career panel focused on the unique challenges women face when advocating for themselves in the workplace. Panelists included Jessica Bialas (MBA’17), Institutional Portfolio Manager, ESG Strategist, Fidelity Investments, Rachel Whitney (MBA’19), Head of Editorial, Nashville, Spotify, and Jennifer Laydon, Director, Office of Public Health Data, Science, Technology, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The final panel of the Women’s Leadership Summit, Finding Balance, was moderated by Jenn Saunders (MBA’24), Vice President of Health and Wellness, WBA, and centered on the notion of work-life balance. The panelists offered practical strategies for juggling personal life and wellness with demanding careers. Panelists included Caitlyn Smith, Employer Brand Strategist, Exaqueo, Allison Taylor (MBA’22), Senior Consultant, Bain & Company, and Margo DeLashmutt, Vice President, iShares Market Leader, BlackRock.
“The inaugural Women’s Leadership Summit was a wonderful experience! I thoroughly enjoyed engaging with powerful female leaders across industries while being able to network with fellow Owen ladies,” says Megan Manno (MBA’25). “As I continue in Mod 1 and beyond, I look forward to implementing learnings in supporting not only the strong Owen women, but all my classmates, as we work to build an ever more diversified workforce.”
“I believe this is a tradition that will continue for years to come,” says Eason. “I hope this event encourages prospective students that Vanderbilt Business is a safe and supportive community for women looking to take the next step in their professional development.”