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Empowering Women in the Workplace: Insights from Vanderbilt’s Executive Women in Leadership Event

Mar 22, 2024
In an evening dedicated to the success of executive women, Vanderbilt Business made space for local female leaders to discuss career experiences and lessons they’ve learned along the way.

By Lacie Blankenship

Have you ever had that “fake it ‘till you make it” moment? That sentiment was echoed candidly with laughter and a hint of humility by panelists at Vanderbilt Business’ Executive Women in Leadership: New Leadership Strategies for 2024 event in early February. The prominent local executive women unveiled a deeper truth parallel to that sentiment during the session; sometimes, the gap between self-doubt and assurance is bridged by the audacity to take the first step and say yes, even during uncertain times.

Pictured: Under a gold and black balloon arch, the panelists pose with Kimberly Pace, the panel moderator. From left to right: Feiner, Hutcheson, Lee, Pace.

From left to right: Feiner, Hutcheson, Lee, Pace, pose in the Great Room at Vanderbilt Business’ Management Hall.

Hosted by Vanderbilt’s Executive Programs, the event originated from a desire to create an inclusive space where leaders could unite and acknowledge the power of women in leadership roles and address some of the unique challenges they face, all while inspiring women and workplaces to embrace female leadership. Vanderbilt Business’ Kimberly Pace, Professor for the Practice of Communication, and Co-Founder and CEO, Executive Aura, moderated the event, and Tom Steenburgh, Ralph Owen Dean and Professor of Marketing, welcomed attendees following opening remarks by Juli Bennett, Executive Director, Executive MBA Programs.   

“If you want to be part of this vibrant community that’s Nashville, you need to be open to change and ready to lead change,” Steenburgh said. 


Meet the Panel: 3 Nashville Executive Women

Candice Storey Lee 

Candice Storey Lee is Vanderbilt’s Vice Chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Athletic Director. Lee is a “Triple ‘Dore” having earned undergraduate, master, and doctorate degrees from Vanderbilt Peabody College. Lee is Vanderbilt’s first female athletic director and the first Black woman to head an SEC athletics program. 

Jennifer Hutcheson 

Jennifer Hutcheson is the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ryman Hospitality Properties. Hutcheson earned an MBA from Vanderbilt Business. 

Allie Feiner 

Allie Feiner is the Vice President and Head of Global Technology and Operations Professional and Organizational Development at AllianceBernstein. Feiner earned an MBA from Vanderbilt Business


Navigating Change and Taking Risks: Women Belong in the Workplace

Pace opened the panel session by commenting that women are notorious for being great at leading teams and juggling various tasks. She shared that many women who work full-time jobs are also primary caregivers, be it for children or adult relatives, another job in itself. This note is backed by a significant amount of research that points to the overwhelming hours of unpaid labor that women disproportionately contribute to keep their households, families, and the world going. 

Among navigating the aforementioned unpaid labor, and gender dynamics in the workplace, women also face gender disparities in venture capital funding, the “motherhood penalty,” the notion that women’s pay and careers suffer after motherhood, the indisputable gender pay gap, and more.  

The panel of executive women, Lee, Hutcheson, Feiner, and Pace, delved into topics like navigating change and taking risks while tackling everyday challenges women face in the workplace; below, we’ve outlined a few key points from the conversation. 

Say Yes, Take a Chance

Pictured: Panelists at Vanderbilt Business’ Executive Women in Leadership: New Leadership Strategies for 2024 event. The 3 panelists are sitting on a stage. Allie Feiner is on the left, Candice Storey Lee is in the middle, and Jennifer Hutcheson is on the right. Feiner is laughing, Lee and Hutcheson are giving each other a high five.

Feiner, Lee, and Hutcheson

In Pace’s opening remarks, after noting a few favorable things that women are notorious for, she mentioned that comfort in taking risks isn’t a common accolade for women. Lee, Hutcheson, Feiner, and Pace, all echoed points encouraging women to say yes and take chances. 

Lee encouraged attendees to “lean into discomfort,” and shared the story of how she took the role of athletic director as an interim position in 2021, just a few weeks before the pandemic. Lee embraced new responsibilities in a time of rapid global change, from the pandemic to the development of name, image, and likeness (NIL) rule changes

Feiner shared her story of saying yes to the Vanderbilt MBA Program. She graduated with her undergraduate degree during the Great Recession; to make ends meet, she was working several jobs, including mucking stalls in a barn. She spoke about researching what she could do to advance her career, and after landing on business school, she found herself fighting to continue to say yes in a way that felt true to her. “Have the courage to step out of your comfort zone, try something, ask for help. Right, I needed a lot of help,” she said. “But say yes, and do it in a way that is authentic to yourself.” 

Hutcheson spoke on the value of saying yes to opportunities that open up in times of uncertainty and doing it publicly. She discussed her transition from accounting to finance, learning a completely new role and doing it very visibly. “There were many times when I said yes when I didn’t think I was ready, almost every time now that I think about it,” she noted. 

Your Community Matters

The panelists each emphasized the importance of having a surrounding circle that is supportive and has high expectations. 

Feiner noted, “I have professors, I have friends, I have so many wonderful people who taught me things, and made me realize that I do belong here [in the business world] and I can do it in a way authentic to myself.” 

“The coach doesn’t put you in unless they think you can be successful,” said Hutcheson. “Being able to trust those people around you and jump into things is very important.” 

Likewise, each of the executive women nodded to the point that women tend to be helpful, and sometimes this means helping other people be successful. The phrase “empowered women empower women” has never been more true. Progress that is received by pushing others down is short-lived and progress that is the product of lifting others lasts an eternity. 

Pace concluded the session with an anecdote she received from a mentor, “know when to say no, but don’t let someone else say it for you.”


Audience Q&A  

Walking a Tightrope: Navigating Organizational Neutrality Amidst Changes in Women’s Healthcare

In a conversation led by and for executive women in the state of Tennessee, the thoughtful question was bound to come up: how are organizations and business leaders grappling with the challenge of supporting their female employees in a time amidst drastic shifts in women’s and reproductive healthcare?   

Lee, Hutcheson, and Feiner each added notes on the delicate balance of upholding a commitment to the diverse needs and concerns of female employees while being mindful of stakeholders with polarizing perspectives, on each end of the spectrum. Ultimately, the panelists noted that there isn’t a guide on how to navigate these waters, but they’ve found an undisputable value in listening to the voices of their employees.

Hutcheson noted that Ryman Hospitality Properties sends out pulse surveys to their employees to assess and prioritize their well-being, ensuring their voices are heard and their concerns are addressed promptly to the best of the organization’s abilities. 

Challenging Perspectives: Shared Responsibility in Advocating for Inclusion

Pictured: In a pictures of the stage and screen above the stage, the panelists are shown in their chairs alongside Pace, the panel moderator. From left to right: Feiner, Lee, Kimberly Pace, the panel moderator. From left to right: Feiner, Lee, Hutcheson, and Pace.

Feiner, Lee, Hutcheson, and Pace

An event attendee asked the panelists about their approaches to advocating for marginalized groups while also advancing as women themselves. In response, the panelists engaged in a reflective dialogue, delving into the complexities of the issue. They emphasized the significance of slowing down, being intentional in their actions, and actively contributing to creating pathways for underrepresented individuals. Lee pointed out a prevalent misconception: that marginalized individuals are often held responsible for advocating for their own inclusion and the inclusion of others despite facing systemic barriers and having less power in the first place. This recognition underscores the need for collective responsibility and proactive efforts from all, especially those not belonging to minority groups, to create a more equitable and inclusive environment.

So, instead of asking who’s responsible for making room at the table, we ask, who isn’t?


Panelists’ Recommendations

The 3 executive women were asked to share recommendations for resources they find valuable in their development as a leader. We’ve listed their answers below. 



Brian T. McCann, Faculty Director, Executive MBA Program, David K. Wilson Professorship, Professor of Management, Vanderbilt Business, was called out by Feiner for the lasting impact his strategy courses have on developing effective leadership strategies.

Ray Friedman, Brownlee O. Currey Chair, Professor of Management, Vanderbilt Business, was called out by Hutcheson for the impact his negotiation lessons had on her communication styles. 

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