Luncheon Speakers Encourage Women to Aim for Leadership

Successful executives join UM event to share experiences, insights

More than 50 students, faculty members and business professionals listen to panelists at the Women in Leadership luncheon in Conner Hall. Photo by Stella Connell/UM School of Business Administration

OXFORD, Miss – Women’s ability to take employees’ feelings into account gives them an edge in corporate leadership that should not be discounted, a marketing executive for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital told participants at a recent luncheon hosted by the University of Mississippi School of Business Administration.

“A good leader is empathetic,” said Jessica Dyer, senior liaison for direct marketing strategy at the hospital and its American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities. “An empathetic leader has genuine interest and consideration for their team members’ feelings and the challenges they face.

“This is a trait that tends to come more naturally to women, which shows the importance of having female executives.”

Dyer was among the speakers at the event in Conner Hall organized by the Women in Leadership Graduate Student Organization. The program featured six panelists who offered insights on leadership, their own professional journeys and the sacrifices they have made to succeed.

The panelists also discussed juggling the work-life balance, the importance of family and learning to say “no” when necessary.

“You don’t always have to give a hard no,” said Maryam Husain, a building information modeling analyst at Sylvamo. “Instead, you can say ‘I can get that to you in two weeks when my workload has lightened up.’

“That way, you are setting a clear expectation of when the task can get done, but not leaving yourself overwhelmed.”

Other speakers at the luncheon were:  

  • Lexie Jones, director of information technology for the Cotton Board;
  • Ellie Moore, director of the UM Speaking Center;
  • Liz Randall, president and director of health care real estate for Randall Commercial Group, and
  • Amber Williams, director of IT for FedEx Services.

The panelists were invited to share experiences and help motivate students to aspire to leadership, said Aditi Holkunde, president of Women in Leadership.

“Empowered women empower other women,” said Holkunde, a graduate student in pharmaceutical sciences from Pune, Maharashtra, India. “As they shared their set of experiences and hardships, it taught us how they developed a set of habits and practices that helped them be who they are today.”

Ashley McGee, director of the Ole Miss MBA program, founded Women in Leadership in fall 2021 as part of the university’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

“I wanted to do my small part so I created WIL as an affinity group particularly aimed for women graduate students to come together to support one another and to grow as leaders,” McGee said. “The student participation from the diverse fields across campus allows us an incredible lens to learn so much from one another.”