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Educating Women as Entrepreneurs


Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Dinner Keynote Speech, Women's Business Initiative International, The Hague

I am honored to be present with you tonight—on your tenth anniversary which you are celebrating on International Women’s Day.

I am very glad that Webster Leiden has helped to sponsor your annual meeting for the past several years.  Webster’s history, values, character, and mission are inseparable from that of our founding women in 1915 who were trailblazers, courageous, risk-taking entrepreneurs who created an opportunity for other women in ways that persist to this day.  It is in large part because of them and the women who came after them and the women in my life that I am at Webster and here with you tonight.   I’m joined by my husband, Paul.  We are, as I think of us, Team Stroble, and I thank him for coming along with me on this trip and for the friendship and support we have enjoyed through almost 32 years of marriage.

Tonight, I am going to reflect both personally and professionally on this moment in which we find ourselves.  I will share the story of my organization, Webster University, and recall moments from my education and upbringing to consider how best we can educate women as entrepreneurs.  Through this education, it is my goal that we will open the world to women and women to the world.

What it is that makes Webster distinctive, and frankly, unusual?

  • Webster University is an exceptional institution in more ways than one.
  • From our inception in 1915, we had a mission of meeting unmet needs. The women who founded us, the Roman Catholic Sisters of Loretto, created a college for women to achieve bachelor’s degrees, one of the first such colleges west of the Mississippi River in the United States.  They created an institution to do what was revolutionary in at least three ways¾as women without even the power to vote; they created a college. And for whom¾for women. And for what purpose¾to educate for careers and lives of service—not as a finishing school or as training to fit women as wives.
  • It is from those beginnings that Webster evolved to welcome an ever more inclusive community.  In the 1960s, Webster welcomed men students and transferred the college to a lay governing board, leaving the identity of a Catholic women’s college for independence and no religious affiliation.  Student profiles expanded to include those on military bases, working adults, and in the 1970s, students in Europe as Webster opened residential campuses in Geneva and Vienna, followed by Leiden and London.   Today we have campuses in Europe, Asia, and Africa as well as online.
  • That history and global diversity set us apart.  What is also rare for an American university is to have a woman as president.
  • The 2016 report on the Status of Women in Higher Education, published by the American Council on Education, refutes the pipeline myth—the idea that there are too few women qualified for college/university leadership positions.
  • In fact, between 2000-2016, women have earned more than 50% of all doctoral degrees. They have earned more than 50% of all bachelor’s degrees since 1981, and more than 50% of all master’s degrees since 1991.  Degree holders are in abundance.
  • Women, as of 2014, hold 31% of the full professor positions at degree-granting postsecondary institutions.
  • So, how many women hold presidencies of American universities and colleges?
  • As of 2011, 27% of presidencies of American higher education institutions are held by women.
  • Among the women presidents, women presidents are more likely to head associate degree-granting institutions than any other type.
  • Webster has diverged from those patterns by virtue of its history and also by an intentional focus on diversity and inclusion.
  • Webster’s first three presidents were women, and only one man served as president in the first 50 years.  There was a 40-year gap from the last president who was a woman (a Catholic nun), until the time I joined the university in 2009.
  • On my leadership team of 10 members, five are female, one is foreign-born, and one African-American.
  • The chair of our Board of Trustees is female, and the board is currently 33% female. Four are African-American, and four are foreign born.

In this unusually diverse environment, including the composition of our student body, I believe we at Webster have a rich opportunity to educate women as entrepreneurs and that doing so is important.

Qualities of an Entrepreneur

What are the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs?  A quick google search provides many varied lists and inventories.  The shortest list I found described four qualities of entrepreneurs, and the longest 35. 

What we know is that female entrepreneurs particularly benefit from environments that are rich in supportive and purposeful programs, policies, climate, and competitiveness.

While at Webster and many schools and universities, there is an explicit focus on building environments that nurture women as entrepreneurs, for me and for my generation and many more women, we developed these skills and capacities from a multitude of informal and formal experiences.  We are among women who have inspiring stories to tell.  We honed our resilience in the face of set-backs and adversity.  We became agile and nimble in addressing uncertain and novel circumstances. Our patience with persisting to a result was constructed over time and multiple trials, and we learned to trust team members to lead with the integrity we accept for our actions.  Our passion for innovation and the mission of an enterprise motivates us to continue to assume both the risk and the rewards and to know when a change in course is warranted.

What or maybe better, who educated me as an entrepreneur?  I am reminded of the Hopi Native American proverb:

 To forget one’s own ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without root.

My entrepreneurial approach to life is rooted in my parents' lives:

  • Parents who married as a result of being penpals during World War II.
  • Parents who moved from first Tennessee to Texas to Wyoming to find employment after World War II and then to the Chicago area for employment. They changed careers when I was growing up, including operating their own business to create more income, family well-being and futures for their children.
  • My Mother who returned to work went from being the drive-in bank teller (with only one year of junior college) to retiring as the president and CEO of the bank.
  • In my life, Paul and I have moved from Illinois to Virginia, to Arizona, to Kentucky, to Ohio, and now to Missouri for our careers.  And our daughter will leave in three weeks for a year-long study in Tokyo to study Japanese language and culture—an important step in her journey of learning.
  • From an early age, I learned to answer the question:  Are you willing to move with an enthusiastic and adventurous yes!
  • I have been shaped and influenced by a variety of cultures as a result.
  • I was educated in a racially integrated suburban Chicago high school; I grew up among members of a second-generation European community. I taught high school students in a very rural farming community and then worked with teachers and students on the Native American reservations in Arizona.  Paul and I now live in the river town of St. Louis that was part of a border state during the U. S. Civil War and continues to be rocked by income inequality and race conflict.
  • My personal life has been marked by not only opportunity but also challenge. Among those, my first husband's death to cancer when he was not yet 30, a time in which I, too, like my parents re-invented my career future to focus on higher education, married Paul, went back to school for our Ph. Ds, and started this journey of life together.

The results of these sources and roots?  And what do I recommend for those of us who want to encourage young women to live life entrepreneurially?

Life-long learning, openness to new learning, new geographies, new cultures, and politics—derive energy from taking on new challenges and removing the barriers to success by working with diverse teams of individuals who like to share risk and reward.

That is why I feel honored to be with you tonight, in the company of women who not only want a seat at the table, but who want to welcome other women to the table, and who frankly thrive when they sit at the head of the table.

What do I think is extremely important for us to encourage in women we wish to prepare to thrive, by educating them as entrepreneurs?  Speaking from my experience and from Webster's¾we need to help women develop a high level of cultural competency: the ability to understand others' lived perspective by immersing oneself in new cultures and environments, literatures, stories, languages. At the college level, study abroad should no longer be seen as an elective, a choice for the elitely educated; cross-cultural immersion and study is essential to a world view that focuses on the common bond of humanity with the intention of serving the world.

We should encourage women's comfort and competence with technologies, including social media, gaming, invention, science-based study, inquisitiveness about the world and curiosity to learn, accompanied by a desire to connect with others across boundaries of space and time.

A great deal is written these days about resilience and grit.  It is important for us to balance the need for messages about protecting one's self from harm with the needed risk taking that helps us bounce back from injury--physical, emotional, and otherwise.  A recent study by KPMG found that 63% of women identified confidence as a top characteristic of leaders; yet 60% of the women were not confident that they could be leaders. 

I like the way Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write about this topic in their recent book The Confidence Code.  They link the idea of resilience and confidence in these ways--Resilience is confidence in the face of disasters. Confidence is a choice we can all make if we can avoid the habits of hesitation, fear of failure, and the desire to do every task perfectly.  It is often the case that women only feel confident when we are perfect or practically perfect. Yet, we know from research that the confidence that comes from mastery is contagious.  If we master one task or skill, or content, we are confident to try another.

What is most important, then, is not to tell each other that we are great (although that is true!) but to encourage each other to act. Kay and Shipman’s best advice: When in doubt, act!

On this tenth anniversary of Women Business Initiative International, I salute you as women who are successful entrepreneurs, confident leaders, and women who act.

There can be no better example of educating women as entrepreneurs than your support tonight of the Bijlmer Project undertaken by Webster University and our partners.

Congratulations on the work you have accomplished and all you seek to do that open women to the world and the world to women. Happy Anniversary!