The working world is changing — as the pandemic enters its third year, labor shortages, increased remote work and new calls for greater diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace are transforming organizations of all sizes. For many, this is a time of reflection on how individual and organizational values align. In this year’s Professionals Week, Feb. 28-March 4, participants were invited to “rethink their relationship with work” and consider how their professional lives fit into this brave new world.
“COVID-19 has taught us many lessons and changed many perspectives on life — the value of time being a key one … People are looking at ways to have more flexibility at work, including remote work and other flexible options to cut down on their commutes and spend more time with family, and some have quit their jobs to pursue their dream jobs or try their hands at entrepreneurship,” says Latoya Asia J.D. ’09, director of talent acquisition and workforce planning at Dominion Energy, who moderated one of the week’s panel discussions. “It’s about taking control of your work and personal lives and making big decisions.”
Approximately 600 alumni, parents, students and other members of the W&M community registered for Professionals Week events, which ranged from panel discussions with experts to interactive workshops to networking hours. All programming was virtual this year to allow members of the W&M community worldwide to participate. Miss any of the sessions? You can watch the recordings on the Professionals Week webpage.
“Our alumni and friends have so much expertise to share, and I am thrilled we could assemble such a star team of speakers and participants for our fourth annual Professionals Week,” says Michael Steelman, director of alumni career management and professional networks at William & Mary.
The week kicked off on Feb. 28 with a workshop from Mission Collaborative, which partners with the W&M Alumni Association to provide career design workshops throughout the year. Participants reflected on their core values, strengths, skills and interests, then defined the criteria they would look for in a new job. Career design expert Ashley Artrip encouraged job seekers to test new career paths by attending conferences in the new field, talking with practitioners in their networks, creating their own test projects — for example, designing a logo for a local brand to explore graphic design — or even taking on work in the new field as a paid side project to see if the new path is the right fit for you.
On March 1, human resources leaders in our community shared their insights during the discussion “The Great Resignation: Competing for Talent in a Changing World,” moderated by Asia and featuring panelists Clem Cheng ’86, senior vice president of human resources at Comcast; Christa Hokenson ’93, chief human resources officer at Strategic Education Inc.; Chris Lee, chief human resources officer at William & Mary; and Holly Tyson ’93, chief people officer at Cushman & Wakefield. The speakers discussed how their industries were affected by labor shortages and the rise of remote work. They also shared strategies for leading with empathy during this time and how to intentionally create workplace culture in a hybrid environment.
“Studies show that there’s one skill set that is most correlated to what CEOs have that others don’t, and that’s the ability to deal with ambiguity. The last two years have put that into high relief,” says Tyson. “This has shown the ability of those who can ‘sculpt the fog’ and create action and certainty from a vague, uncertain environment. The leadership skills that are formed on the battlefield right now will help us create the next generation of leaders.”
The panel on March 3, “Building Community in the Workplace” was another powerhouse, with panelists Erika Moritsugu ’94 and Rita Sampson ’89, both senior executives in the federal government; W&M Board of Visitors member Doug Bunch ’02, J.D. ’06, partner at Cohen Milstein and chairman of Global Playground; Nina Cavazos ’13, director of corporate relations at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute; and Amandeep Sidhu ’00, partner at Winston & Strawn and co-founder of the Sikh Coalition. They shared personal stories about what it meant to bring their full and authentic selves to their workplaces, including their intersectional identities where race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, family situation and other elements overlap. They also discussed what it means to be an ally to others and how mentorship and simple conversations with others can open new doors.
“In the public or private sector, it’s important that we honor the unique histories, cultures, traditions and contributions that communities and individuals bring … that extra time and labor it takes to work through the tensions, to educate each other, to listen to and be aggressively curious about each other, is worth it so we can find our commonalities across racial, religious, geographic, generational and even political and ideological lines,” says Moritsugu. “When the personal and professional merge, we get to be our best selves.”
Two online networking sessions provided a venue for participants to make new connections and discuss the topics of the week: one especially for recent graduates, current students and young professionals, and one for the entire W&M community to chat in a casual setting.
During their networking session, young professionals had an opportunity to use what they had learned in a special workshop hosted by Maegan Crews Fallen ’12, director of the Career Development Center at Randolph College, and Michael Steelman, director of alumni career management and professional networks at William & Mary. Crews and Steelman shared key tips for successful networking, including showing your enthusiasm about your interests and following up with the people you meet.
“Career readiness is one of the four overarching initiatives of the university’s new Vision 2026 strategic plan, and programs like Professionals Week fit perfectly into its goal of preparing our students and alumni not just for their first jobs, but all the professional opportunities they will pursue throughout their lives,” says Marilyn W. Midyette, chief executive officer of the W&M Alumni Association. “This week is just one of the many programs and resources we offer throughout the year to strengthen and support the W&M network worldwide.”
To see all the W&M Alumni Association’s career and professional development offerings, visit wmalumni.com/career-networking.
Editor’s note: Careers is one of four cornerstone initiatives in W&M’s Vision 2026 strategic plan. Visit the Vision 2026 website to learn more.