Author: Lisa Michals

Published

2010 Women's Conference
Anne Ruth Moore (shown at left) was the first woman to graduate from UGA’s School of Commerce. The stereotypes Moore would have confronted in the workplace are barely imaginable today, but challenges remain, says Mom Corps CEO Allison O’Kelly (BBA ’

Sometimes, a businesswoman just needs a pep talk. Alumnae of the Terry College of Business got one Nov. 5, 2010, and perhaps the most inspiring part of the inaugural Women’s Conference went unspoken. Along with the several hundred professional women in attendance, an aura of confidence, compassion and possibility filled the hall at UGA’s Center for Continuing Education.

Keynote speaker Debbie Storey (AB ’80, MBA ’06), who opened the conference, invoked the now age–old paradox of how to achieve success in business and as a mother. Now a senior vice president at AT&T, she recalled rising through the ranks with her first employer—where she was the first woman ever invited to suit-filled meetings—and feeling the sense of urgency to get to the daycare center simmer within her as meetings stretched into the evening.

“I can't tell you the number of times my son was the last one, basically sitting on the front step with his little backpack,” recalls Storey, who was a single mom since her son was 5 years old.

The paradox of being a woman and being in the business world was a recurring theme throughout the morning. The tone was set by the story of Anne Ruth Moore, the first woman to graduate from UGA’s School of Commerce.

Next to Moore’s senior photo, the 1922 Pandora yearbook included this inscription: “It is a distinct surprise to hear Anne Ruth talk learnedly about stocks and bonds, insurance and Wall Street transactions, until he realizes her unlimited knowledge of such subjects, apparently so foreign to her loving nature.”

And then, the line that elicits laughs from today's Women's Conference audience:

“She will make a perfect secretary for some rich business man.”

The women–in–business paradox may have been the initial reference point for the daylong conference, peppered with anecdotes of modern incarnations, but the discussion quickly transitioned to transcendence.

And, according to Storey, it starts with making great coffee.

As a clerk in the customer service department of a printing company, Storey said her approach—in retrospect—boils down to four keys to success. Making great coffee is both a literal and metaphorical tenet.

“If that's what I have to do, I'm going to do it better than anybody else,” she says.

The remaining three tenets are:

  • Make mistakes, and learn from them;
  • Get in over your head, because it means you are in an arena where you can grow; and
  • Make time for yourself.

When it came to making time for herself and her family, she found that communicating her needs and requesting respect resulted in a receptive audience. In terms of those suit–filled, long–running meetings, she asked that her boss give her advance notice if he thought a meeting would run late, and in return she would ensure she is available and make arrangements for someone to pick up her son. That positive experience led her to believe that it was always important to “shop for a boss” as her career progressed.

Over lunch, Mercer chairman and CEO Michele Burns (BBA ’79, MAcc ’80) also spoke about how intimidating it is to tackle jobs that women had never held before. But she kept the audience in rapt attention as she described being in the control room as Delta Air Lines’ CFO as the Sept. 11 tragedy unfolded.

Burns also offered her advice in a list, which included being brave enough to speak your mind, knowing that doing your best means more than working hard, and devoting yourself to lifetime learning. Topping her list, however, was simply that you have to show up, and, she says, “that means more than physically being there on time.”