Women continue to blaze trails throughout the business world, breaking ceilings and increasing representation across companies, boards, and business school enrollment. While appreciating the achievements women have made in business, it’s important to look back and remember the stories of those who came first. In honor of Women’s History Month, we caught up with a few pioneering women from the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business to talk about their time at Scheller, what Women’s History Month means to them, and what they are up to now.
Terry Blum: First Woman Dean and Endowed Chair at Scheller
Terry Blum has paved the way for many women at Scheller. Blum, the first female dean of the College from 1999 - 2007, was also the first woman to be appointed as an endowed chair. She is the Tedd Munchak Chair in Entrepreneurship and is also the faculty director of the Institute for Leadership and Social Impact.
“I felt honored, valued, and recognized when I was the first woman appointed as endowed chair,” said Blum. “It was when there were very few chairs and I am not even sure I understood the significance.
When I was named the dean, I felt like it was an opportunity to seize resources for Scheller so it could gain the respect it deserved. It felt heavy and inspiring. I had a very successful scholarly career, and I was not focused on formal academic leadership. Yet, the possibilities were compelling, so I accepted the call from the provost to do it.”
In addition to all her contributions to Scheller, Blum is most proud of co-founding the EXCEL program at Georgia Tech. EXCEL is a program that provides a fully inclusive four-year college experience for college-age students with intellectual disabilities. Students earn certificates that allow them to live more independent lives, gain employment, and cultivate healthy social networks. The current focus on the organizational culture and climate gives her hope for a more inclusive future for people with all kinds of intersecting identities.
“As a woman leader, I believe that diversity programming is everyone’s business,” said Blum. “While the leader sets the tone, creating an inclusive environment requires a shared narrative that is instilled in those to whom decisions are delegated. A woman leader is limited in what she can do. It is helpful to have other women and male allies. I felt grateful for those who supported me, cheered me on, and helped the College get on a great upward trajectory.”
Ruth McEwen: First Woman PhD Graduate at Scheller
While working in hospitals during her late 20s, Ruth McEwen realized she had little business knowledge. After deciding to return to school, McEwen was drawn to Tech’s international reputation, and she earned her MS in Management in 1983 and PhD in Accounting in 1986. She was the first woman to earn her PhD from Scheller.
“I owe much of my success to the women who preceded me and offered their insights. Many, many men also provided support. Women’s History Month helps maintain focus on workplace equity issues,” said McEwen.
McEwen is currently enjoying retirement, after serving as the director of the School of Accounting, professor of accounting, and senior associate dean at Florida International University’s College of Business. Under her leadership, FIU’s School of Accounting ranked among the top 10 in terms of student enrollment, with more than 2,000 students. In addition to her many professional achievements, the thing McEwen is most proud of is being the only member of her immediate family to go to college.
“I was the only member of my immediate family to go to college,” said McEwen. “Navigating the educational process having come from a family that did not value education was difficult. Earning a PhD and achieving professional success has been extremely gratifying.”
Lisa Barkowski: First Woman President of the Graduate Business Council
After being elected as president of the Graduate Business Council (GBC) during her time in the MS in Management program at Scheller, Lisa Barkowski had no idea that she was the first woman to ever hold that position. She was simply proud that her classmates had the confidence to vote for her to take on the important role. Barkowski, who is now self-employed as principal at LB Consulting, recognizes how important it is to assist other women in achieving their goals.
“Women’s History Month is a time to recognize all those women who came before me and broke down barriers,” said Barkowski. “It’s also a reminder to me to help other women achieve their goals. It’s a reminder to give back to up-and-coming businesswomen.”
If she were to offer advice to women MBA students, it would be to seek out a mentor (or two) and to make sure to take credit for your hard work, a lesson she learned as a woman in business. Another piece of advice - start building your network now, since it will be invaluable to you at all points in your career.
“My favorite part of the program was the cohesiveness of my class,” said Barkowski. “This was in the days when we didn’t have laptops, so we used the computer labs together and helped each other out because we were likely working on the same assignments. There were no cell phones so when we were staying late studying, we ordered pizzas using the phone in the elevator.”
Barkowski’s appointment as the first woman president of the GBC set that standard for today. Four out of the five incoming GBC board’s executive positions are held by women – President Francesca Sally, VP of Finance Claire Bilkert, VP of Student Engagement Suzy Livingston, and VP of Professional Development Sarah Harris. Sally has also made history with her appointment - She is the first Black president of the GBC.
“The representation on the GBC is a reflection of not only the capabilities of the women in our cohort, but also the importance of allyship within our community,” said Sally. “A first look at the gender diversity of our class does not paint the full picture. The leadership of women at Scheller has always been vital to Scheller’s success and GBC is a manifestation of that reality.”