For decades, women have experienced an uphill battle when it comes to attaining certain roles in the workplace. While this trend appears to be slowly changing in their favor, there is still plenty of work to be done on this front.
During the 2019-2020 academic year, Saint Leo University launched its first-ever Women in Business Club. This group is primarily designed for female students to have candid discussions about women in the workplace and network with successful female professionals from a variety of backgrounds.
How Dr. Diane Monahan Helped Spearhead the Women in Business Club
Dr. Diane Monahan, the chair of the Department of Marketing, Communication, Hospitality and Sport Business and an associate professor of communication at Saint Leo, serves as the faculty advisor for the club.
"I had talked to some of my classes and asked if any students would be interested in being part of such a club," Monahan explains. "I heard from several who were interested and decided to give this a go."
She says that a number of other faculty and staff in the Tapia College of Business have supported the club. These include longtime Saint Leo professors Drs. Barbara Caldwell and Judy Holcomb, along with Donna Shea, the academic coordinator for the Doctor of Business Administration program. Monahan explains her role as faculty advisor.
"My job is to help facilitate events for the club with the students. I provide guidance when they r developing meeting ideas and offer suggestions."
Leaning on her professional connections has also been a major benefit to the students in the club.
"I have used my professional network to find guest speakers to talk to the students," Monahan says. "I've had some great conversations with women in various sectors across the Tampa Bay area, many of whom have been so generous to contribute to our club. The majority of business leaders want to pay it forward to help younger professionals coming up. They want to share the wisdom they have learned in their careers."
She adds that the women she has reached out to have been so willing to open up about their challenges in the business world.
"One speaker who works for a highly successful construction company talked about how it is still such a male-dominated field. The students had a very candid conversation with her and found it to be quite meaningful. I think when students hear all of this from well-established female leaders, it is extremely impactful."
A Memorable Virtual Event
Last October, the club held a virtual panel event with several top female executives from around the Tampa Bay area. This included representatives from Tampa General Hospital, Rockwell Financial Group of Raymond James, and other leading companies in the region.
"It was such an incredible opportunity for our students to talk directly with these female leaders," she says. "They had some very honest and thought-provoking conversations."
Expanding the Club's Diversity
While the Women in Business Club is geared toward female students in business degree programs at University Campus, Monahan emphasizes that all meetings and events are open to male students and those enrolled in both undergraduate and graduate degree programs. In addition to students in the Tapia College of Business, the club has had some psychology and English majors join.
"In order to change the workplace experience for women, we need males at the table. It is so helpful for all genders to hear about the different challenges that exist."
Her Philosophy as a Saint Leo Business Faculty Member
Monahan promises to do all she can to help every student she comes in contact with to succeed.
"I tell our students that if they can dream, we'll help them build that dream. If I can't help directly, I will put them in touch with others who can help."
How Emily Prengaman Became the Club's First President
Emily Prengaman, a 2018 alumna of Wesley Chapel High School, graduated from Saint Leo last month. Originally from Wesley Chapel, FL, the 21-year-old now lives in Brandon. She is one of seven children, three of whom are adopted. Her older brother, Justin, also earned two degrees from Saint Leo and worked for the Admissions Office.
Finding Her Community at Saint Leo University
She started her college career at a larger university in Mississippi but decided to transfer to Saint Leo in January of 2019.
"I got homesick and decided to move home over the winter break," she explains. "It was honestly the best decision I could have made."
Her brother also had an influence on her move.
"I remember touring the campus with him when I was in elementary school and he had started going there. It's funny how it all kind of came full circle."
She explains how she landed on the bachelor's in communication degree program.
"I've always loved public speaking opportunities and getting the chance to have informed conversations with people," she says. "I also find it interesting to analyze the ways in which people communicate with each other to contribute to something. I wanted to find a degree program and make a living with what I enjoy doing."
Impressionable Faculty Members
She says all of her professors she had at Saint Leo University were truly remarkable.
"Dr. Monahan was a huge part of my college experience. She was also my brother's favorite professor. At the time I applied, she wasn't doing much student advising, but she was so up for being my advisor after my brother told her she had to. She has been such a big inspiration to me in so many ways."
She also had a unique connection to Dr. Kenneth Embry.
"He truly pours his heart into his classes," she says. "I also found out that his wife was my kindergarten teacher, so that was super cool knowing that they both got to teach me."
Dr. Robyn Parker, the dean of the College of Business, and Dr. Jennifer Toole were outstanding to her as well.
"Everyone in the College of Business was amazing," she says. "You can tell there is something special going on behind the scenes there. Every professor and staff member I met truly cared about my education, and I know that I will keep in touch with many of them for years to come."
Stepping Up to Lead the Women in Business Club
According to Prengaman, she was approached by Monahan to collaborate on assembling the group.
"Dr. Monahan asked if I'd be interested in starting this club with her," she recalls. "It had been on her radar for a while and she was looking for the right opportunity to launch it. We had casual conversations about women's rights in the workplace. I said I was absolutely interested. I think she is the perfect person to advise a club like this."
Planning the Virtual Roundtable Event
When club members reached out to female executives, Prengaman wasn't totally sure on what kind of response they would get.
"We were so ambitious and thought some of these women were out of our league, but they were so revved up to be part of such a virtual event."
Prengaman got an early jump on her career. At 14, she started working at Weightman Middle School in the front office. When she was 19, she became the general manager of Max's Pet Market & Salon in Wesley Chapel.
She is extremely grateful for a connection she made through the Women in Business Club to land her new role. Carrie Charles, the CEO of a Tampa-based staffing agency called Broadstaff, participated in the club's virtual panel event last fall. Earlier this year, she reached out to Prengaman on LinkedIn.
"She saw I was graduating and said she had an opportunity for me. It's amazing what networking can do for you as a student."
Charles offered her a staffing and marketing coordinator position which Prengaman accepted and started in May. In terms of a long-term career goal, she could see herself helping young women succeed much like her professors have done for her.
"The joke is that I want to be Dr. Monahan. I want to be in a position where I can empower young women to help them feel liberated in whatever they want to choose in a career."
Her Perspective on Women in Business
Prengaman offers up her view on the current state and future of women in the workforce.
"It's looking more possible than ever for young, fresh-out-of-college females to thrive. I think it boils down to open lines of communication, shared values, and shared experiences. When people talk about what they want in their lives and careers, it provides value in the workplace. I think this permeates into lots of demographics. It's not just a gender issue but also involves race, religion, and other aspects of who we are as individuals."
While she acknowledges the progress, she knows there is still a lot of work to be done.
"Men, women, and those who identify as non-binary need to continue to have candid conversations in a safe and respectful manner. I think a lot of those conversations should start at the college level and in groups like our Women in Business Club."
Major Kudos from Prengaman's Mentor
Monahan can't say enough good things about Prengaman."She is truly a powerhouse," Monahan says. "She encompasses the savviness of understanding organizations, people, and relationships. She will go very far in her chosen career. I knew she would be successful from day one. When she walked into my office for the first time, she presented herself with such confidence and poise. She is also very conversational and personable."
Monahan says Prengaman had three business professionals who were vying for her as she neared graduation.
"I told her to seriously consider which of those professionals would be the best mentor for her, not necessarily the best boss. I encouraged her to choose the one who had her best interests in mind. I think she absolutely made a great decision."
Passing the Torch to Kerry Reilly
Kerry Reilly, 21, is the incoming president of the club for the fall 2021 semester. The Wesley Chapel native is a 2017 alumna of Wiregrass Ranch High School. She originally attended a larger university in New York before transferring to Saint Leo in the fall of 2019. She wanted to move back to Florida to be closer to home and was searching for a university where she could run track and cross country.
"Growing up in the area, I had always heard Saint Leo was a great school," she says. "I also knew the athletic programs were good. Kent Reiber, the head coach of the cross country and track teams, reached out to me and helped solidify my decision to attend."
Reilly, who has a twin sister named Caitlin, enrolled in the communication degree program with a minor in marketing and sales in sport. She hopes to wrap up the degree in December.
Communication Degree Instructors of Note
She credits Drs. Diane Monahan, Kenneth Embry, and Jennifer Toole as being instructors who have made a very positive impression on her as a Saint Leo student.
"They have all been great professors in the program," she says. "They've given us so many opportunities for hands-on experience as well. Dr. Monahan has helped me learn a lot about the communication field and what's involved in working in it. Dr. Embry taught me a lot about podcasting and using social media for marketing purposes. Dr. Toole taught us how to build a WordPress website."
She emphasizes how available and supportive each instructor has been.
"The first thing I noticed about Saint Leo is that you can easily access your professors and have one-on-one relationships with them. All of the professors knew my face and name in my first week of classes. They also really try to learn what each student wants to do when they graduate so they can help you achieve your goals."
She credits her athletic endeavors to helping her grow as an individual.
"I have learned the importance of hard work, dedication, persistence, and teamwork. I can apply a lot of this to my career."
Joining the Women in Business Club
She learned about the idea of a Women in Business Club during her first year at the university. She started out as treasurer and eventually became vice president.
"Being involved in this club has made me get out of my comfort zone," she says. "As a student, it's easy to stay in your own little bubble. You just have to realize how much you can learn from your fellow students, professors, and professionals in the field who are willing to network with you."
As president, her goal is to focus on increasing engagement among the members and draw in new students. Plus, she can't wait to have Prengaman share her career success story with the members.
"We want Emily to come back and talk to our members about her experience with her first full-time job because she landed that opportunity through the connections she made during one of our club events."
She points to Saint Leo's core values of community and personal development as the ones to which she has related most, particularly thanks to her involvement in the club.
Dr. Monahan's Perspective on Reilly
Like Prengaman, Monahan also has high praise for Reilly as a student and leader.
"She is so sweet and has incredible attention to detail in her work and relationships," Monahan shares. "This attention to detail distinguishes her from other students. Plus, she has an incredible work ethic as both a student and a student-athlete. She truly wants to leave a legacy with this club. She has such dedication and drive to be the best person she can be."
Reilly worked as a communications intern for Brad Bee, the assistant athletic director of athletics communication. She is now an intern for SponsorUnited, a startup focusing on creating sports sponsorship deals.
"I'd love to work in the sports and entertainment field doing event management," Reilly says.
Want to Get Involved in Saint Leo University's Women in Business Club?
This fall, the club plans to be part of a weeklong event to recognize Women Entrepreneurship Week and Free Speech Week from Oct. 18 to 22, 2021.
"Our club will be collaborating with the College of Business, campus radio station, the Cannon Memorial Library, and our Entrepreneurship Club to put on some fantastic events that week," Monahan explains.
Monahan encourages all students to consider getting involved in the Women in Business Club. She is open to any questions or comments about the club via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo credit: Three of the photographs in this blog article were provided by Emily Prengaman and Kerry Reilly and are used with permission.