In early May, a group of students gathered at the CU Denver Business School to gain insight on a growing segment of the business world: women. The two-speaker panel served as the inaugural event for Women in Business, a new student club that launched this spring. Between students, speakers and faculty, the conversation explored how confidence and community play pivotal roles in women’s professional development.
CU Denver freshman Abigail Goodgion, club president and event moderator, introduced the night’s guest speakers Jennifer Biehn and Kami Guildner.
Biehn has spent more than 20 years in the sports business and higher education industries. She is now a partner and head of Odgers Berndtson’s Denver office, as well as a member of CU Denver Business School’s Board of Advisors. Guildner, a 1992 CU Denver alumna, works as a best-selling author, podcast host and women’s success coach. She is the founder and leader of Extraordinary Women Connect.
Fake it till you make it
If there was one takeaway from the night, it would be that confidence is crucial for women to succeed in business.
“No one’s going to invite you to take a seat at the table,” said Biehn. “You have to find a way to get yourself there. I think confidence is the backbone to every part of your business career, including your student life now.”
“No one’s going to invite you to take a seat at the table. You have to find a way to get yourself there. I think confidence is the backbone to every part of your business career, including your student life now.” – Jennifer Biehn
Biehn and Guildner agreed that it can be hard for women to feel confident early on in their careers. However, it is an asset that grows every time you learn a new skill, make a connection or take a risk—even when it results in failure. In turn, these experiences will lead to more and more opportunities throughout your career.
It starts with preparation. Biehn advised students to treat every opportunity like an important job interview. Do your homework before you enter the room as a way to reinforce your confidence, she said. This is essential at her executive search firm Odgers Berndtson. Biehn must win every contract, and that requires knowing her clients’ successes, failures and pressure points—as well as how her company will uniquely address them—to beat out the competition. Biehn encouraged students to do the work leading up to important meetings, whether formal or informal, in order to put forth your best self.
Biehn and Guildner acknowledged that gender discrimination still exists, especially in male-dominated industries. But in today’s shifting political and cultural climate, women have enough precedent and support to push through those challenges and achieve their goals.
“I’ve learned to operate, especially in the sports business, in a man’s world. You can’t always change the rules. You have to learn to be your best in the situation that you’re working in.” – Jennifer Biehn
“I’ve learned to operate, especially in the sports business, in a man’s world,” said Biehn. “You can’t always change the rules. You have to learn to be your best in the situation that you’re working in.”
Relationships will carry you forward
Looking back, Biehn and Guildner recalled female role models that helped shape what they thought was possible. For example, Maria Bartiromo had a lasting impact for Biehn. As the first reporter on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Bartiromo exhibited a contagious level of enthusiasm while she interviewed corporate giants on primetime TV. It is a skill that Biehn continues to emulate in her own career.
Students should start building a network of role models, mentors and peers now. Both speakers stressed that it is an invaluable source of support. As the host of Extraordinary Women Radio, Guildner regularly interviews women of “voice, vitality and vigor,” including Denver’s female entrepreneurs. During their conversations, she recognizes their strengths and successes as reasons for celebration rather than intimidation.
“We don’t look at each other as competition,” said Guildner. “We look at each other as collaborators.”
“Building relationships is so important because you never know when you’ll have to call on people down the road,” Biehn added. “If you build those relationships tight, authentically and strong enough, the women in your life are going to help raise you up.”
Focus on your strengths
Are there any advantages to being a woman in business? Biehn and Guildner said yes, and they advised students to concentrate on these instead of the obstacles.
“Don’t try to mold yourself into being the man in the room,” said Guildner. “Women have ways of connecting with others that is so powerful; there’s a softness but also a fierceness. Feminine strength is powerful.”
“Don’t try to mold yourself into being the man in the room. Women have ways of connecting with others that is so powerful; there’s a softness but also a fierceness. Feminine strength is powerful.” – Kami Guildner
College is the ideal time for women to explore their strengths and passions, and experiment with how those can be integrated into their careers. However, don’t get caught up in thinking too far ahead, cautioned Biehn. It is common to change career paths several times, so embrace the uncertainty. As long as you work hard, grow your network and strive to be your best, women can find a way forward.
“There have been enough women ahead of you that have paved the way,” said Biehn. “Remember that you define your own destiny. You live in a great city, where you can do what you want to do. You have every opportunity, and it starts right here.”
Interested in learning more about the Women in Business club or another student organization at the CU Denver Business School?