Zhang Career Center speakers address gender in the workplace

Contact: Angela DeYoung

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The Haworth College of Business's Zhang Career Center recently hosted a Student Professional Readiness Series (SPuRS) event covering a timely topic: gender in the workplace.

SPuRS is a co-curricular graduation requirement at WMU Haworth, ensuring that all undergraduate business students graduate with the career readiness competencies desired by employers. Organized by Jennifer Palmatier, employer relations specialist, the event featured two speakers who shared their experiences from an employee perspective, as well as an HR perspective.

Be an advocate for women at work

Danielle Jones, B.B.A. '10,  general manager for Hutcherson Construction, started the session by sharing her experience when she was working as the only female account manager in her company and freshly out of college. Unfortunately, when the company that Jones was working for learned she was trying to start a family, she was told in no uncertain terms that she would not be supported or successful in her role if she were to become pregnant.

In hindsight, there were several red flags that Jones did not know to look out for—she was paid less than her male counterparts, the turnover rate was high and it was clear that she was being discounted because of her gender. This was the last straw for Jones, and she quit without having another job lined up. Jones said that this was a scary time, but she eventually found a new role within an organization where she was fully supported in becoming a mom. 

While this may seem unlikely to happen today, it is still affecting women in small pockets of the professional world. Since beginning her career and recognizing the disparities for women in the workplace, Jones has become an advocate not only for herself, but for all women finding themselves in need of support at work.

Jones offered meaningful advice to students as they begin their job searches.

"Don’t settle for less than you are worth," she says. "Find an employer that prioritizes work-life balance, allowing a schedule with 'me time' to prevent burnout. Generous paid time off, flexible work schedules and comprehensive benefits such as gym memberships in addition to health insurance are key indicators to how an employer cares for its employees."

Western student Thomas Coppernoll enjoyed the presentation, saying, "It is important to train yourself to listen and respond to everyone at work, no matter their title, background or gender. We continue to improve when we have access to ideas from everyone and can communicate openly about when we need help."

Inclusivity is important

Mike Proulx, human resource manager, and Daniel King, B.B.A. '16, talent acquisition specialist, both for Enterprise Holdings Inc., continued the session with their perspectives on gender in the workplace as HR professionals. Proulx and King shared some noteworthy statistics about women in the workplace:

  • Regarding financial performance, the bottom 20% of Fortune 500 companies place women in 19% of their leadership positions.

  • In contrast, in the top 20% of Fortune 500 companies, 37% of leadership positions are filled by women. 

Fortunately, employers are continuing to improve these statistics. According to Proulx and King, more than 12% of U.S. millennials identify as transgender or gender non-conforming, and a majority believe that gender is a spectrum rather than a binary. 

Additionally, Proulx and King shared that when compared to millennials, Gen Z’s views on gender are even more progressive, and organizations are realizing this shift is no longer something they can ignore. Inclusivity in the workplace has become increasingly important in recent years, and companies that are actively focusing on creating a culturally-aware workforce with culturally-competent employees are performing at higher levels across all measurable categories.

Proulx ended the presentation with a few words of wisdom, “Everyone needs a variety of networks to draw from, including development networks, career networks, and most importantly, mentor relationships. Look for ways to be contagious and break down ‘old boys club’ mentalities by lifting up your colleagues’ strengths, no matter their background.” 

Preparing students for a professional future

WMU Haworth and the Zhang Career Center are proud to offer its students opportunities for education outside of a traditional textbook. Hearing about challenges that current business leaders face helps students prepare for what they may encounter in the professional workforce, as well as how to advocate for themselves and their peers as workplace conditions continue to evolve. “Our hope is that events like this encourage students to reflect on what they are looking for in a career,” says Jennifer Palmatier, an employer relations specialist at the Zhang Career Center. “We want them to be encouraged to research a company’s values, culture, leadership and resources as they work through the application and interview process.”

The Zhang Career Center offers a diversity-related event once every fall and spring semester. Events are posted through Experience WMU. Find more information about SPuRS.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.