Nonprofit Founders Urge Aspiring Leaders to Speak Up, Reach Out
By Pablo Suarez
Photo by Ross Lewin
Margo Thomas M.S. ’90 is creating economic opportunities for women and underrepresented groups as founder and president of the Women’s Economic Imperative.
L. Audrey Awasom ’18, founder and CEO of Noble Uprising, is tackling economic inequality closer to home by educating and assisting impoverished women by meeting their emergency needs and providing job training and opportunities in Montgomery County, Md.
Both shared their insights from pursuing careers rooted in service as keynote speakers during Thursday night’s 11th annual Women Inspire event hosted by the Robert H. Smith School of Business. The event highlights alumnae leaders excelling in business and celebrates female empowerment.
“Our two Women Inspire award winners inspire the next generation of leaders, who will transform the world to be a better place for all,” Dean Prabhudev Konana told the crowd gathered at the Samuel Riggs IV Alumni Center. “They bring the extraordinary vision, talent and determination of the entire Maryland Smith community to the forefront.”
Nicole Coomber, assistant dean of the full-time MBA program and associate clinical professor, moderated the discussion, A networking event followed.
Thomas and Awasom offered these career tips:
Be your own cheerleader. During meetings with more experienced colleagues, Awasom said she sometimes diminished her voice based on her own perceived lack of experience. Many young professionals and entrepreneurs struggle with this, but it’s important that they recognize the value they can add to conversations. “I’ve learned to be confident in my ideas, no matter how elementary they may seem and to stop filtering myself,” said Awasom, who started her nonprofit while an undergraduate. “I believe that what you say to yourself will determine the level of success you have because you have to be your biggest cheerleader.”
Make sure you’re on track. With any goal or vision, it’s important to continually assess how you’re doing, said Thomas, who earned a Ph.D. and spent two decades as a senior official with the World Bank. Ask yourself questions like: “How am I doing?” “Am I getting the right skills?” and “Is my vision what’s best for me?” “That’s going to help you understand where you are, where you want to go and what adjustments you need to make,” she said. “Be prepared to be courageous if you have to change it.”
Pay it forward. Being in a position to serve and mentor the next generation of leaders is a privilege, Awasom said. There’s no need to wait until you’re older to become a mentor; start whenever you’re ready. “There were so many individuals who mentored me when I was growing up by giving me their time and resources and investing in my ideas,” said Awasom. “I’d be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t do the same thing for others.”
Know your worth. While searching for her first full-time job, Thomas said she got a call from one potential employer telling her to be more patient in her career aspirations. But she walked away with a different lesson: Don’t settle. “When you’re trying to grow, understanding your value is critical,” said Thomas. “Stand in your power, but do it with humility. That’s something that’s influenced a lot of my career decisions.”
Find strength in numbers. Serve as a champion and advocate for others, not just in what you say, but also through how you invest your time and other resources. “I’ve been able to participate and forge relationships in different contexts that wouldn’t have been possible without those champions,” said Awasom.
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