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NIU Today | Celebrating student leaders: Kate James, Women in Business Professions

To celebrate International Women’s History Month, we asked some of the student leaders in the Women in Business Professions (WIBP) student organization to share their thoughts on women helping women, bringing others along and their WIBP experiences.

Kate James

Major in accountancy; dual-enrolled in the Master of Accounting Science program. Certificate in nonprofit and NGO studies. College of Business Dean’s Student Advisory Board member. Accountancy Mentor Program student mentor. Leaders in Ethics and Academic Discipline member. Previously, WIBP vice president of finance (fall 2021), president (fall 2020) and vice president (spring 2020). Currently, WIBP president.

Last semester, NIU President Lisa Freeman gave a presentation to our group and spoke at length about the importance of women supporting women. A piece of advice she gave that really resonated for me was to create connections with individuals who will advocate for you. In other words, create a group of connections with people who will speak positively or highly of you when you’re not in the room. That’s incredibly powerful and something I had not heard before.

Along those lines, being an advocate — for yourself and for others — is a big part of women potential. I recently watched a Ted Talk on this exact topic. The talk shared how being an advocate for others is beneficial and in what situations it should be done. The speaker also focused on the times when a woman’s idea will get looked over, taken by a man or not get shared at all when she feels unsure about speaking out. The speaker provided great strategies to remedy these things.

For instance, when a woman’s idea is overlooked or taken by another, one way to be an advocate is to bring attention back to her and her idea or share her idea with other people, while making sure to give her credit for it. An important way to help individuals feel more comfortable about sharing their thoughts is to bring them along. This, for me, means making sure everyone is included and actually feels included. This can be in a conversation, in an activity, an event or even in future opportunities. It’s important for men to be a part of this conversation and to be aware of these things because men will be and are working with women. In my mind, this is an important leadership trait for everyone: making sure everyone is included and no one is negatively singled out. The great thing is we all have the capacity to be intentional about doing this, no matter the role we may or may not hold within organizations or in groups.

Staying open to learning, even when you’re in a leadership role, is also key. Something that has surprised me the most about being part of WIBP is how confident it has made me. When I first joined the organization, I never imagined one day being the president. And now, here I am, in my second semester as president. This organization has taught me so many important life skills, pushed me out of my comfort zone, expanded my awareness (and continues to) and has given me more confidence in myself and my abilities.

WIBP faculty advisor and marketing Professor Denise Schoenbachler has been a significant role model for me during my college career. I’ve met with her multiple times on issues beyond the organization itself. She’s provided great advice to me on school and on potential opportunities at NIU and beyond. She’s been generous and invaluable in so many areas, including informally mentoring me during my internship with Northwestern Mutual. By interacting with Schoenbachler and working with her, I have grown so very much. Thanks to her, I’ve gained enhanced professional communication skills, leadership skills, critical thinking skills and greater confidence in myself.

It all comes full circle. For me, bringing others along includes my desire to acknowledge previous WIBP presidents as role models. They showed me how to be a leader and, in particular, how to lead this group. They also showed me how to handle conflicts and how to effectively plan and host events. It’s been absolutely wonderful to be part of WIBP. I highly recommend this group to any student and wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I will truly miss this group when I graduate.

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