A sold-out audience of more than 300 filled the Davidson-Gundy Alumni Center on Oct. 15 for the first Women’s Summit. The event was hosted by the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) at the Naveen Jindal School of Management, in partnership with Women Entrepreneurship Week 2018.
“UT Dallas has a great track record of diversity, with women making up 43 percent of its student body. Yet, we’ve seen a much smaller percentage of women — anecdotally, less than 10 percent — participating in some of our non-academic entrepreneurship programs, like our startup accelerator and our big idea pitch competition,” said IIE Executive Director Steve Guengerich. “The focus of the summit was to bring successful women investors and entrepreneurs to UT Dallas, to provide students, alums and the public an opportunity to meet people, be inspired and pick up some practical lessons about starting a venture.”
Keynote speaker Jessica Shortall capped offed the event. Shortall is managing director of Texas Competes, a partnership of business leaders dedicated to ensuring that Texas maintains a strong economy and is welcoming to everyone, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals.
Shortall also is an author and speaker on topics of a diverse workforce, doing good in the world and issues affecting working parents. Her 2015 book, Work. Pump. Repeat. (New York: Abrams Image, 2015) is a survival guide for breastfeeding and going back to work.
She spoke on the importance of using your brain versus your heart to bring about positive, lasting changes that benefit others — or the importance of effectiveness versus emotion.
“Doing something good for someone can get you that emotional paycheck,” she said. “You feel wonderful when you walk away, but it doesn’t last. We need to take the ‘feel good’ out of the equation as much as possible.”
She illustrated her point by sharing a personal experience from her time with the Peace Corps. She was in a small village in Uzbekistan to teach English to the students, but it was a frustrating endeavor.
“Any time I walked through the village, without fail, a parent would stop me and ask me to come to their home to teach their child English. They knew how important it was, and they knew they were not getting what they needed. They would beg me to come, but I had to tell them no. We weren’t permitted to do that.”
While tutoring the students might have allowed her to help a few, Shortall decided to tackle the problem with her brain, rather than her heart.
“I started to think about what was special about me that would help me make a difference for those children that would be lasting,” she said. “I had learned there wasn’t a single book printed in English in the entire village. So, I sat down and wrote letters to people I knew in the U.S., explaining the situation and asking if they could send me a book.”
Within six months, she had received 3,000 books, which eventually were used to establish a library in the town.
In closing, Shortall recounted another experience working with her organization to defeat the so-called “bathroom bill” being discussed at the time by the Texas legislature.
“I was so angry about some of the things that were being said by some people, and I could have called a reporter and just ripped them up,” she said. “But that would have undone all of the work we had done over the previous three years. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is keep your mouth shut.”
Organizers deemed the Women’s Summit a resounding success. More than 300 attended, and many expressed interest in ongoing participation. Conference director Dresden Goldberg, assistant director of the IIE, considered her greatest highlight to be the large stack of completed interest cards received from individuals wanting to be involved as speakers, mentors and volunteers for the IIE’s spring 2019 GalXc Women’s Accelerator.
“It was gratifying to see how much people wanted to help UT Dallas students be successful,” she said.
— Glenda Vosburgh