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Women Business Owners and University Leaders Address Group

By Claire Sahs

University of Mississippi

Women in Leadership panel member Tonyalle Rush (left) talks with Ashley McGee, director of MBA administration at Ole Miss. Submitted photo

Women in Leadership, a new graduate student organization at the University of Mississippi, recently observed Women’s History Month with a panel discussion and luncheon to allow business women to lead and build their reputation as women in their respective fields.

The organization strives to inspire women by giving them opportunities to connect with others who value diversity and advocate for one another. It is open to any female studying at the graduate level. 

“As women, we are all here to support one another. It takes a village to be successful at anything,” said Kate Newman, owner of Style Assembly, a women’s clothing boutique just off the Oxford Square. “It’s about finding a way around the barrier in anything you do.” 

“It’s not about the problem you are facing, it’s about what you are doing to solve it.” 

The Ole Miss observance traces its roots to 1978, when educators in Santa Rosa, California, planned and executed a local celebration referred to as Women’s History Week. The organizers selected the week of March 8 to correspond with International Women’s Day. 

The movement quickly spread across the country and other communities began hosting their own celebrations the following year. By 1987, Congress passed legislation to designate the month of March to women’s history, according to the National Women’s History Museum. 

The March 9 panel included some of Oxford’s most successful businesswomen in leadership positions: Timber Heard, founder and CEO of Talitha Kumi Jewels; Erin Holmes, associate professor of pharmacy administration at the UM School of Pharmacy; Kate Newman, owner of Style Assembly; Catherine Hultman, operations coordinator for the Gertrude C. Ford Ole Miss Student Union; and Tonyalle Rush, associate vice president for student services and enrollment management at Northwest Mississippi Community College. 

“I think it’s important for women to support women no matter what, but in business especially,” said Maia Dooley, both the first and current president for Women in Leadership.

“The business industry is still dominated by men. We as women need to empower and inspire each other as we work together towards equality.” 

Panel members were asked about some of the challenges they face on a daily basis. A common theme among the panel was finding a way to balance it all. 

“It makes me feel better to hear these other successful women in leadership say ‘You know what, I don’t have it all together!'” Holmes said. 

“Letting other women know you are struggling, although it can be difficult, opens up a lot of important conversations,” Hultman added. “Vulnerability goes a long way.” 

Ashley McGee, director of MBA administration at Ole Miss, facilitated the discussion and closed by asking each panelist what they wish they could tell their younger self. 

“You are not required to set yourself on fire to make others warm,” Rush said. “As women, we continue to take on more and more responsibilities. 

“I wish I could tell my 25-year-old self to live in the moment, enjoy life and take care of yourself.”

Audience members ranged from Susan Duncan, dean of the UM School of Law, to students and members of the community, such as Tanisha Bankston, author of “My Pain is My Power.”

The women in attendance, including panel members, left feeling inspired and motivated.

“The organization focuses on connecting with fellow women to foster an environment that allows us to grow in confidence and leadership,” McGee said. “I’ve learned so much, myself, from the leaders who have served on our panels over the past year, and I have been inspired by the conversations that our students have had with them.”

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