by Colton Campbell
Women from across the region gathered at the University of West Georgia last week to hear from three empowered – and empowering – women, learning how to advocate for other women in the workplace – and accept their colleagues’ advocacy in return.
The annual Women Empowering Women event, hosted by UWG’s Richards College of Business, was sponsored by Walmart.com and held in the UWG Campus Center. Panelists were Dr. Juanita Hicks, vice chancellor of human resources for the University System of Georgia; Helene Lollis, president and CEO of Pathbuilders; and Amber Pelot, a senior associate in the Alston & Bird law firm.
Dr. Faye McIntyre, dean of the Richards College of Business and Sewell Chair of Private Enterprise, moderated the panel discussion, giving a brief introduction of each panelist and highlighting this year’s theme.
“We’ve been doing this for six years now, and every year, the topic of mentorship comes up in some capacity,” McIntyre said. “It’s become clear that everyone – especially women – needs a sponsor or an advocate, someone who can help them grow and develop in the workplace. These three panelists come from diverse careers but all have experience on both sides of that relationship.”
Questions from McIntyre and the audience of more than 150 women included how to “pay it forward” when it comes to sponsorship and advocacy; how to remain your authentic self at work; and how to negotiate for a raise.
“Advocacy is all about creating a pathway for individuals to grow and fulfill their potential,” Hicks said in her opening remarks. “I wouldn’t be sitting in this position if I didn’t have someone who paved the pathway for me. Someone helped me gain the right kind of training and education I needed to proceed, so to me, advocacy means creating a space and opportunity for others.”
In her current role, Hicks seeks to maximize employee and organizational effectiveness with strategic HR efforts that support the Board of Regents' objectives to be more efficient, affordable, and promote degree attainment in Georgia.
Previously, Hicks served as the associate vice president of human resources and chief human resources officer at UWG – her alma mater. She earned a bachelor's degree in business administration with a concentration in human resources from the Richards College of Business in 2003.
When she was asked for tips on negotiating for a higher position or more responsibility, Hicks shared a personal experience in which she felt she “undercut” herself and didn’t ask for what she believed she deserved.
“I asked for what I thought was best for the organization, but I gave up more than I should have,” she said. “Knowing your worth is crucial, and you should be careful to not always put other people’s needs and expectations ahead of your own.”
Lollis agreed, encouraging attendees to shift their mindsets when they’re considering asking for a promotion or a raise.
“How would you carry yourself – and how would you ask – if your mindset was that they’re expecting you to ask?” Lollis said. “As women, too often we feel we’re supposed to just be appreciative of what we have, but go into it as if they’re expecting you to negotiate – because, trust me, they are expecting that.”
Lollis’ organization, Pathbuilders, partners with clients to develop top-tier talent through mentoring and professional development, with a core focus on moving high-potential women forward in leadership. Trained as an engineer, Lollis spent 12 years with Amoco and BP Corporation in plastics process design, product development and strategic planning.
When asked by an audience member how to help other women “up the ladder” after you’ve been helped, Lollis said it’s the individual’s “obligation to do that for others.”
“Women tell us all the time they have a difficult time getting good, constructive feedback, and you might be in a position to give that kind of feedback,” she said. “Success in business relies so heavily on self-awareness, and often we aren’t given the tools to be self-aware. When I’ve honestly shared with individuals what I thought could make them more successful, not only was I better, but so was my team.”
Another key component of developing future leaders in the workplace is pushing them forward via “stretch opportunities,” as Pelot referred to them.
“I was the person who needed someone to advocate for her, but one of the things that helped me the most has been those stretch opportunities that allowed me to add skills and experience to my tool belt that I wouldn’t have without someone putting me in those roles,” Pelot said. “Those opportunities give people confidence and the ability to feel more empowered to advocate for themselves.”
At Alston & Bird, Pelot serves as a senior associate in the Atlanta-based law firm’s real estate and investment group. Pelot focuses her practice on what she called “dirt law,” or the acquisition, ground-up development, leasing, and disposition of commercial real estate.
Pelot is also a UWG alumna, earning her degree in economics and finance from the Richards College of Business in 2006. Prior to her current position, Pelot served as a fellowship associate at Habitat for Humanity International Inc.
When asked how she stands in her authenticity as a woman in the workplace, Pelot said there’s a perception in the legal world that people have to be “bulldogs” to be good attorneys.
“I’m not that way at all – I want everyone to be friends and gain positively from their experiences with me,” she said. “I’ve learned to just embrace my personality and not try to be someone I’m not. I’ve been given the chance to have positions I didn’t necessarily ask for or think I was ready for at the time, but because I had someone believing in me and sponsoring me, I’ve become so thankful for those opportunities that have helped me grow.”
Attendance of Women Empowering Women is open to the community. For more information about the Richards College of Business, visit www.westga.edu/business.
Photography by Miranda DanielPosted on