Finding Your Voice: Third Annual Women Empowering Women Event Opens to Sold-Out Crowd

Amy K. Lavender

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

A classroom at Tanner Health System in Carrollton was recently filled to capacity with women from all over the region ready to support and learn from each other at the third annual Women Empowering Women event.

Hosted by the University of West Georgia’s Richards College of Business and sponsored by Walmart, this year’s event welcomed UWG alumna and Emmy Award winning television journalist Shaunya Chavis-Rucker, UWG alumna and Carroll County Commissioner Michelle Morgan, and Southwire Company Executive Vice President of Human Resources Kathleen Edge.

Dr. Jane Marrero, the first lady of UWG, opened the event by welcoming the audience and panelists.

“I’m excited about the panel today, and I know they’re going to give us a lot of insight to the issues we face with our careers by owning our own voices,” she said. “I’m excited to hear what these ladies are going to say because I know what they share with us will help us create an environment that is more engaging, supportive, and inclusive.”

The panelists opened the event by sharing their journeys to their current positions and how they blazed new trails for women in their respective fields.

Michelle, who is the human resources manager for Carrollton-based Morgan Oil, said she never planned to become a commissioner, but after she and her husband presented a request to the Carroll County Board of Commissioners in 2014, only to have it stalled due to qualifying, she decided to get involved.

“I never intended to run for office,” she recalled, “but I found my voice in January of 2014. It made me angry that people were thinking more about getting elected than they were about representing their constituents. I hoped my friends would talk me out of it, but then I realized that I would regret it if I didn’t take this leap.”

Michelle, at the time she was elected, was the only woman on the Carroll County Board of Commissioners.

Shaunya shared memories of imitating Walter Cronkite when she was as young as 7 years old and she lived in New York with her family. When she told her parents she wanted to be a news anchor, they had one question for her.

“They said, ‘Who do you see on television who remotely looks like you?’” she recalled. “Well, guess what? We moved to Atlanta. And guess who was on television who looked like me. Monica [Kaufman] looked like me.”

Soon after her arrival in Atlanta, Shaunya had the opportunity to meet Monica when she paid a visit to her school. From there, it was a hard-fought journey to break into television and move up to larger and larger markets, while being one of the few black females in the business. She finally made her way back to Atlanta to work for WSB-TV before transitioning to public news.

Kathleen also worked her way up in a male-dominated field – manufacturing. She started as an accountant.

“The day I found my voice was the day I decided I wasn’t going to be an accountant anymore,” she said. “And my husband supported me. I went to school and got my degree, and then I told him, ‘I think I’ll try to get my master’s.’ And he said, ‘We’re not playing. You either go achieve the goal you’ve set, or we move on to another goal.’ So a week later, I came back to him and said, ‘I’m gonna go get it.’ And I did. And he moved with me nine times over 14 years in corporate America. He gave up his career to support me.”

According to Kathleen, she moved up the corporate ladder by getting results and improving employee performance – a journey that presented its own unique set of challenges simply due to the fact that most of her peers were male.

Each panelist was also given the opportunity to speak on “Owning Your Voice,” the event’s theme, before taking questions from the audience.

Michelle reflected on her campaign for office and stated that on election night, she realized that she had been a voice for not only herself, but also her district, and the 40 plus women who volunteered to help with her campaign.

“Getting ready for that night to see the results come in, I said to myself, ‘Win or lose, today, we have already won,’” she recalled. “Because the group of us that had come together to get me elected, we had brought up some great topics for discussion about what a politician should be, and it was in that moment that I realized we had really done something good.”

Shaunya spoke about her switch from news to public news as a way to own her voice.

“The nature of news has really changed recently, you know. And there’s all this other stuff going on in addition to the story or instead of the story,” she explained. “I got in to journalism because I want to tell people’s stories. So I needed to find my voice in a different way, and I was able to do that through public television. It’s important not only to find your voice, but also to figure out which audience your voice can be heard in most effectively.”

Kathleen stressed the importance of women discovering who they are when trying to find your voice.

“Find out authentically who you are,” she said. “And once you’re authentically you, understand the power that you have to impact your family, your community, and the profession you’ve chosen. But when you look to find your own voice, it’s not just about sharing that voice with women, it’s also about finding those men who will show the ropes and mentor you. Surround yourself with supportive men and women and own your voice by doing one thing – being authentically who you are.”

Dr. Faye McIntyre, Richards College of Business dean and Sewell Chair of Private Enterprise, thanked the panelists for sharing their experience with those gathered at the event.

“Events like this help us bring in people who can share their experiences and help us all to grow as a result,” Dr. McIntyre said. “This is not just for people starting out in their careers. This event is for everyone, no matter where you are in your career, because we all need to own our voice. We all need to figure out who we are and be willing to be honest about who we are and open with our opinions.”