Diane von Furstenberg, inventor of the iconic 1970s wrap dress, has said when describing her early 20s, “I never knew what I wanted to do, but I always knew the kind of woman I wanted to be – a woman in charge.” Recently the icon’s brand — DVF — launched the #InCharge movement, which focuses on women having “a commitment to ourselves.” More specifically, the movement is focused on women “owning who we are” and “respecting and trusting our character, knowing that it is forever the home and the core of our strength.”
In collaboration with Anthology, an ed-tech company, DVF brought together women leaders from across the tech world, including Google Cloud and Accenture for a conversation titled Learner Today, Leader Tomorrow. The conversation focused on how education plays a critical role in empowering women and girls for the future. Ingrid Gonzalez, Sales Director, Google Cloud, discussed how nontraditional students such as first-generation learners or international students, who are forging their own path without the built-in network, must be bold, ask questions and navigate the initiative to surround themselves with the people who will help them achieve their goals. She stressed, “Don’t be afraid to ask for help because that’s when the doors and windows to opportunity will open.”
First generation within the higher education context, typically refers to a student whose parents did not earn a college degree. These students typically lack the social and economic capital and benefits that result from having parents who attended college. A first generation student herself, Richa Batra, Vice President and General Manager of Education Technology at Anthology, explained how the term “first-gen” didn’t exist when she was a student, so “the fact that we have that language today and the ability to understand what those pathways are is really important.” Likewise, Jaclyn Smith, a Business Strategy Manager at Accenture, chimed in on her experience as a first-generation student and how her parents supported her as she pursued her college degree and eventually helped her to open her own business.
Panelists also offer students advice on how to have the confidence to be authentically themselves. As Gonzalez stated, “I think it’s extremely important to be proud of who you are and embrace your differences.” She suggested surrounding yourself with people who empower you and believe in you, noting “They truly helped me define how my differences could be a tool that I was going to use my entire life personally and professionally.”
Gabby Hirata, President of Diane von Furstenberg (DVF) explained the challenges she faced as an international student in the U.S., including how arriving in a new country with such a significant language barrier caused her to fall into moments of isolation and depression. But after listening to her inner voice, she worked hard and got to a better place. Hirata shared, “I no longer feel lonely. I feel motivated to make it here.” According to research, social isolation is prominent among international students and can hinder academic performance in college.
Each of the women discussed the barriers they faced in higher education. Smith shared, “I think it’s really important that we’re having the conversation now, up front, and that students are very aware of the implications of taking on student debt and what that really means for their future.” According to a 2017 report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the student debt issue is a women’s issue and discussions of college student loan debt needs to be viewed with a gender lens. Women hold nearly two-thirds of the country’s $1.54 trillion in student debt, and on average women owe an average of $2700 more than men.
Anthology’s Batra shared the results of a recent survey the company administered titled Opportunities to Grow Student Success & Career Preparation: “58% of students said they want more career services to help them get a job after graduation, but only 15% of leaders from institutions are planning to invest in career services.” The survey also urges college leaders to “Ensure that students are learning about potential careers for their major throughout their student experiences, as this [practice] increases the likelihood of [students] remaining enrolled.” Having access to career services during the senior year and after graduation is especially important to women as they are less likely to discuss their career plan with a career advisor than men, hindering their success.
All the women leaders shared the importance of having role models for success as a professional, especially role models who are women. #InCharge is focused on ensuring that women use their voices and have the opportunity to do so. The movement also emphasizes the importance of women supporting other women.
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