When Mintha Roach (HCB, ’74) graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with a degree in personnel management, she started her career in business during what she describes as “a very different time.”
Now president and CEO of the Knoxville Utilities Board, she was back at the Haslam College of Business in early March to speak with a primarily female group of students, faculty and staff during the second annual Women in Business, Entrepreneurship and Leadership Summit.
“When I was hired at Knoxville Utilities Board, I was the first manager hired externally and became the first woman to serve in senior management,” Roach said, adding that she had already overcome gender issues in previous roles to obtain a management position.
As a first-generation college student, Roach had been motivated by the desire to make a living for herself, and, as she explained in her keynote speech, followed Eleanor Roosevelt’s maxim that: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
“I encourage you to trust your instincts,” Roach told symposium participants. “Women have since made great strides towards gender parity in the workplace, but we’re still not completely there. We’ve got to show leadership and elevate women to leadership roles in all organizations, because we’re out there working just like men.”
Danyelle Norment, a senior management major, said that hearing from Roach and the other speakers at the event left her feeling “really empowered, not only as a woman, but as a woman at the Haslam College of Business.”
“I gathered so much great advice,” Norment said. “I learned that I need to stand up for myself because I am worth standing up for.”
Wan Rashid, a sophomore accounting major, said the symposium was eye-opening for her.
“This has been a great opportunity for women in the Haslam College of Business to understand that we do have power and a say in the business world,” Rashid said. “We often get caught up in how people see us when instead we should be focusing on how we can impact people.”
Another speaker, Meghann Erhart (EMBA – SL, ’13), vice president of supply chain strategy and strategic sales for Pilot/Flying J, shared some advice that she gives her own daughters.
“I tell my girls: ‘We don’t try, we do,’” Erhart said. “If the house catches fire, do you try to get out? No. You do get out.”
Erhart believes in bringing that mentality to the workplace. “You should push yourself to add value every day that you’re in the building,” she explained. “Raise your hand for the job and put yourself out there.”
Tyvi Small, executive director for talent management, diversity and community relations, told participants that the event reflects Haslam’s definition of diversity.
“When we talk about diversity and inclusion, we mean it in the broadest sense possible,” Small told the students. “Don’t let this be the last time you have these conversations. When you are in your corporate careers – and I know that you will be very successful – you will be mentors to others.”
Valerie Walls and Jody Zahn, both human resources directors at Scripps Networks Interactive, led exercises in positive psychology.
“We need to start focusing on what is right with us rather than what is wrong,” said Walls. “You’re more productive and engaged when you focus on your strengths. Of course, you need to know your weaknesses, but you’re best served when you start with your strengths.”
In wrapping up her keynote speech after lunch, Mintha Roach of KUB advised students to embrace diversity when they enter the workforce.
“Understand that diversity is not just a political agenda,” Roach said. “It adds value to your bottom line and quality to your decision making. Sometimes they are right and you are wrong, so grow your networks beyond the groups of people in your immediate surroundings.”