Shining the spotlight on women in business
Ashley Johnston, a sophomore studying business administration, figured she would get some practical career advice at the inaugural Women in Business Speaker Series event.
After hearing the personal and professional story of Manning School of Business alumna Janet Dellea, senior manager of ethics and business conduct at Raytheon, Johnston came away with so much more.
“My path is very similar to what she’s gone though, so it was really good to see that you can come from a certain place and take yourself far,” said Johnston, a transfer student from Simmons College. “She helped me solidify my aspirations. I learned not to be so scared and to believe in myself. It was much more than I expected.”
Launched by Coordinator of Student Success Lisa Armstrong and Assoc. Prof. of Management Brooke Hargreaves-Heald, both members of the Enrollment Management Committee, the series is designed to help strengthen the connection between female students in the business school with successful alumnae.
“Hearing about another woman’s success story will hopefully inspire women in the business school to pursue their career aspirations,” said Armstrong, who was happy that men were also part of the standing-room crowd of more than 100 students at the Pasteur Hall auditorium on April 9. “While we’re calling it a ‘Women in Business Speaker Series,’ all students can benefit from hearing about the valuable life experiences of a successful business person.”
The students heard Dellea describe growing up in Lowell with a single mom and five siblings. “I didn’t have a perfect home life,” said Dellea, who did have natural artistic ability, though. She studied art her first two years at the university before doing a 180 and transferring to the business school. “I wanted to make some money,” she said frankly.
Dellea worked feverishly to make up credits and graduate on schedule in 1984 with a degree in business administration and a concentration in management information systems. But the job offers didn’t come rolling in. “It was really hard to get a job back then unless you had a serious connection,” she said. “And we didn’t have networking like you have now. We didn’t have Facebook or LinkedIn.”
So instead, she grabbed a job on the manufacturing floor at Raytheon. “It didn’t require a college degree, but it got my foot in the door,” said Dellea, who was moved up into a financial analyst role just six months later. She continued to climb the career ladder (“I always had my eye out there. I didn’t just sit and be complacent.”) while starting a family — something she says was not easy to do 25 years ago.
“Industry was not supportive of working moms,” said Dellea, who has two daughters. “I hid my pregnancies because I was afraid of not getting a raise I had coming to me. I was afraid of missing opportunities. It’s really unfortunate. But I’m really happy to say now that it’s not, from what I can tell, the situation in industry.”
After the birth of her second daughter, Dellea said she decided to stay at home and raise her children, something she realizes not every family can afford to do, but something that she thought was important.
“If you try to have it all, something is going to suffer. Something isn’t going to get 100 percent,” she said. “Raising my kids was the biggest success that I’ve had in my life, and I really, truly believe it’s because of the decisions I’ve made.”
Junior Thalia Chodat, a Dean’s Student Leadership Council member who helped launch the speaker series, said it was an important message for students to hear.
“Balancing family life is something that people think about, and we don’t talk about it enough in business school,” said Chodat, who added that the speaker series will continue each semester as a way to address the low female-to-male ratio in the business school. “There are a lot of women in business from UMass Lowell who are successful, and we want to promote them.”
Now that Dellea’s daughters are older, she has returned to work full time. She admitted feeling nervous about taking on her current senior manager role at Raytheon, where she’s responsible for ethics training for 15,000 employees across 29 locations globally for the $7 billion business. Four years into the job, she’s happy that she took on the challenge — something she encouraged the students to do.
“You’re going to have a solid degree, you’re going to go forward with that degree, but make yourself known,” said Dellea, who added that she was proud of her alma mater’s reputation for turning out students who “roll up their sleeves and dig in” to get the job done.
Dellea concluded by telling students that her next goal is to return to her original passion of art. “I’ve always wanted to be a photographer, so that’s what I want to do in my next life when I grow up,” she said.
That caught the attention of Darius Watford, a sophomore studying accounting.
“I have a passion for film and painting, and so hearing someone else with the same story, who also felt the same thing that I did, that really resonated with me,” Watford said. “It makes me feel confident to know that even though she went down a different path to make money and support her family, she’s still in touch with her art. It shows that there is no generation gap in terms of what you want to do.”