How are women reinventing the workplace? Bryant University Women’s Summit
By Patricia Andreu
According to Virginia “Ginny” Clarke, the business world is in the midst of an enormous transformation.
Clarke, the founder of a talent and leadership consultancy, doesn’t just mean the more flexible workplace precipitated by the COVID pandemic. She sees a seismic shift in the very constructs of corporate culture, where women — and other underrepresented groups — play a larger role in creating new paradigms in the workforce.
“I’m saying to women: We need to start stepping up and really claiming what we know we’re good at and where we can add value. And, stop asking and seeking validation from others,” she said. “As a civilization we cannot afford to not have everyone active and doing what they want to do for the good of all.”
On Wednesday, Clarke will join Karen S. Lynch, CEO of CVS Health, and Nikkia Reveillac, director of consumer insights at Netflix, as keynote speakers at Bryant University’s Women’s Summit. The theme of the summit’s 25th year is “Leadership Through a New Lens.”
“Women are trying to contort themselves into this image of what it means to be a leader or a professional,” Clarke said. “We don’t need to do that anymore. We need to rewrite that whole playbook of what leaders look like. And, it looks like us. Being empathetic and competent. Being unapologetic and fearless.”
Clarke, who received her MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, says she honed her skills of assessing talent during her dozen years at Spencer Stuart. She soon realized that “the whole game has been rigged.” Rather than relying on meritocracy, many companies continue to act like fraternities that favor certain academic and professional pedigrees.
“A lot of these venerable institutions — whether they’re the older ones like GE and IBM, or newer ones like the Googles and Apples — were built on foundations that I think are wobbly and weren’t necessarily created to be inclusive,” she said. “How about we build something that really is for everyone and is going to be that much better? It doesn’t need to be either/or. As women, we’re coming with the ‘and.’”
Another of the summit’s keynote speakers, Karen Lynch, instantly became one of “the most powerful women in American business,” according to Forbes magazine, when she was named CEO of Woonsocket-based CVS Health in February 2021. As the highest-ranking female executive in the United States, Lynch oversees the fourth-largest company in the country by revenue. She took charge of a corporation on the front lines of a once-in-a-century global pandemic.
“Throughout my life I have been faced with adversity,” Lynch said via email. “Regardless of what the challenge is, I’ve learned our strength and resilience is shown through how we respond. When you have a setback, learn from it and keep moving forward.”
Lynch, who will receive Bryant’s Kati C. Machtley Businesswoman of the Year Award at the Women’s Summit, has said she looks forward to the day when female executives are no longer the exception but the norm.
Her career advice for women: “Empowered leaders empower leaders. Find a sponsor or mentor, and as you advance in your career, pass it on. Teach what you’ve learned.”
Ross Gittell, president of Bryant University, said it’s critical for Bryant students — and for women in the workforce — to hear directly from the speakers, not only about their own professional trajectories, but also the lasting impact of the pandemic on the business world.
“It’s a particularly poignant time to get together and talk about leadership issues,” Gittell said. “We thought this was a really good opportunity to highlight three keynote speakers who are really providing a new lens to leadership with a particular focus on some of the challenges. But, really a focus on the opportunities for women and women’s leadership.”
The summit, which will be held on Bryant’s campus in Smithfield, is expected to draw more than 1,000 participants both in person and virtually. Admission costs $199.