Joanna Lau, founder and CEO of executive consulting and investment company Lau Acquisitions, and member of the College of Charleston’s School of Business Board of Governors, says the inspiration for the upcoming Women for Women Summit, presented by the School of Business, came from the women in her life.
“My mother was the strongest role model anyone could have. She was not educated and worked really hard. Growing up in China, she relied on the community of women to support each other,” she says. “Women are so much stronger when they support each other, however, when we get into the professional world, I’ve found that women often lose that sense of community.”
Lau immigrated with her mother and seven siblings to New York City in 1976, and eventually made her way to Boston. She quickly climbed the corporate ladder and by the time she was 30 years old, she was the founder of her own company. Today, 30 years later, she is passing on the lessons she learned to her daughter, a recent college graduate who is learning to navigate the challenges of the corporate world. These conversations inspired Lau to start thinking about how to share this information on a broader scale. So, she tapped her network of successful businesswomen and asked, “how can we elevate women?” This question resulted in the creation of the Women for Women Summit, with the mission to celebrate, elevate, share and connect women.
Alan T. Shao, dean of the School of Business, was immediately supportive of the concept for the summit. Under his leadership, the School of Business has worked to promote diversity and empower the next generation of female business leaders. In 2018, the student club Women in Business was created by Honor’s College student Kristen Parker ’19, and today the club offers a variety of events, including speakers, workshops, fundraisers and social activities within the community.
Katarina Fjording, head of Volvo Car University Americas at Volvo Car Group and School of Business board member, worked with Lau to create the summit.
“We want to inspire young women and show them that there are many different paths to success and fulfillment,” says Fjording. “We all come from different backgrounds and face different challenges, but those experiences teach us something and make us stronger.”
Born in Sweden, Fjording believes there is no ‘one size fits all’ route to success, a lesson she’s learned while working in Europe, Asia and the United States. A lover of the outdoors and a sustainability promoter, Fjording has traveled to remote places such as Antarctica. She emphasizes how important it is to find what gives you energy and that you will feel more fulfilled in your life if you identify a purpose, be it at work or giving back to the community. Her advice to young women is to “go outside your comfort zone. Every time you try something new, you learn.”
At the inaugural daylong summit on Feb. 27, 2020, a dozen professional women from different backgrounds will share their wisdom in discussions and panel presentations on topics that include self-empowerment, overcoming obstacles and holding onto your power in the face of adversity. Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations and Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley will receive the 2020 Woman of Courage Award during the event as well as give the afternoon keynote address.
Cynthia M. Legette ’93, senior vice president and private client manager at Bank of America, as well as vice president of the College’s Alumni Association Board of Directors says, “Being an alumna of the College of Charleston has helped form who I am both personally and professionally. When Joanna came to me about her vision for this summit, I knew the College would be the perfect institution to showcase such an event especially when we are celebrating 100 years of women at the College and our 250th anniversary. It has been an honor and privilege working with such an amazing group of women to create this incredible event.”
Kara Mayumi Shannon, a graduate student in the College’s MBA program, is looking forward to the event, too.
“As a female MBA student at the College who is just starting out in the business world, I owe a lot to these women for the doors they have opened,” says Shannon. “It’s so important to be able to connect with other women who can provide real-life advice and guidance. This conference will be a fantastic opportunity to meet, learn and be inspired by women who have ‘beat the odds’ within the business industry.”
Indeed, it takes a village to inspire change.
“It takes a community of women to make a difference,” Lau says. “If you could make a difference today, what would it be?”