The city of Charlottesville hosted the Virginia Women’s Employment Summit on Thursday at CitySpace.
The summit focused on careers in information technology, construction, entrepreneurship and other fields in which women are underrepresented. Other topics included salary negotiation, interview techniques and workplace readiness.
Jennifer McCune, an independent consultant for Rodan & Fields and CEO of McCune Health & Wellness, LLC, gave a keynote address at the summit.
After graduating from Northwestern University, McCune obtained her Ph.D. in Spanish at the University of Virginia. She pursued a career in academia by working for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, then as a part-time instructor at UVa and Piedmont Virginia Community College.
After the birth of her second child, McCune worked from home as a Project Coordinator for the Department of Defense, revamping its online culture and language course.
In 2012, she decided to take on a new challenge: consulting for Rodan & Fields, a global skincare business. The following year she was laid off by the Department of Defense, and Rodan & Fields became her full-time job. She not only started her own business but also formed her own women’s networking group in Charlottesville.
McCune began her speech by asking each participant to turn to a person they had never met before and ask him or her two questions. After a few minutes, some participants shared the questions they had asked.
Unsurprisingly, most had asked ‘What do you do?’
“If you think about when we meet somebody, generally we ask two questions first: ‘What’s your name?’ and ‘What do you do?’” McCune said. “This is a real cultural thing in the U.S, that we are really fixated on what we do [professionally].”
“This was a big epiphany moment for me that I was thinking, ‘Gosh, maybe I need to think about different questions. Maybe I need to stop thinking about what it is that I want to do, but rather thinking about how I want to live.’” McCune continued.
She decided that the three things she wanted in her life were financial independence, time flexibility and a strong support network.
To reach these goals, McCune kept an open mind as she looked for her next challenge. After she found out about Rodan & Fields on LinkedIn, she immediately took advantage of this new career opportunity.
“Those first couple of years were really hard. I was working full-time. I was going to school at night. I had three kids at the time who were five, eight and ten,” McCune said. “But I said…this is my life. If I don’t start putting in ten hours a week and paying for my dreams, rather than for my boss’s dreams…it’s never going to happen.”
With her own business, McCune has now met all of her original goals. Rodan & Fields not only is her primary source of income but also allows her stay home with her family, travel around the world and pursue other personal interests. She has built a network of inspiring, supportive female entrepreneurs as well.
McCune ended her speech with four action items for attendees to do after the summit. She asked that they take thirty minutes to write down what they envision their lives could look like five years from now.
“Start thinking about professional opportunities that can mesh with that five year vision goal,” McCune continued. “Open your mind to different opportunities. If where you are now is not getting you to where you want to be, you might need to go on a different path.”
McCune recommended seeking out women women that are living the life that they want to live, and asking them what they did to get there. There are many women’s networking groups available online and in-person, McCune said.
“Offer other people your mentorship once you’ve achieved that,” McCune concluded. “It’s all about women empowering women.”
Kathy Perryman, Senior Technical Support Specialist for the city of Charlottesville said in a panel discussion that she has only seen one or two women apply for jobs in technical support in her 10 years on the job.
“I think that women became a little nervous about putting themselves out there,” Perryman continued. “Women fail to realize that we have the potential to do these things.”
The panel addressed bias in the workplace as well.
“How you respond to [bias] is what’s going to determine your trajectory and how you’re going to deal with those moments,” said Yolunda Harrell, owner of A Taste of Home Southern Cuisine. “If you don’t see your future there, it’s okay to move on.”
Cathy Stapleton, founder of Speakeasy & Company, ended the summit with a presentation on workplace readiness.
In her youth, Stapleton was a successful actress and singer. However, she was very introverted and struggled with Attention Deficit Disorder. She was continuously punished at school as well as made fun of by her siblings.
She later battled cancer and struggled with depression, which worsened after twenty-five years in a verbally and emotionally abusive marriage. Her discovery of her ex-husband’s affair led her to contemplate suicide.
Stapleton emerged from this crisis by focusing on helping others through Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/Albemarle. She was soon offered an opportunity to work for PVCC. She later founded Speakeasy & Company to help other introverts with communication and public speaking skills.
Women cannot let people tell them what they can and cannot be, Stapleton said.
“Being women, I think it’s really natural for us to kind of take the backseat, to be the one that just takes care of everybody else, but we don’t put ourselves first.” Stapleton said.
Finally, Stapleton emphasized the importance of vulnerability.
“There’s a power in being vulnerable…being vulnerable takes a lot of courage,” Stapleton concluded. “When you are vulnerable and you show your authentic self, you are going to be better at everything.”
The Virginia Women’s Employment Summit was sponsored by Charlottesville’s Office of Economic Development, the Virginia Employment Commission, Jobs for Veterans Services Grant and Virginia Career Works.