This is the third chapter in a series spotlighting members of our community who epitomize the Athena standards and live by its principles. Readers will come to know these women, the companies they are representing, and the forward-thinking employers who have a commitment to elevating women and fairly compensating those women for their contributions in their workforce.
The Athena principles:
Living authentically • Learning constantly • Advocating fiercely • Acting courageously • Fostering collaboration • Building relationships • Giving back • Celebrating
Dr. Carol Sanchez is a champion for the power of relationships, both in our professional and personal lives.
“Relationships are so very very important, and I like to think that I take care of my relationships, and treasure them and nurture them and build on them,” she said.
Sanchez is the Professor and Director of International Business Programs at Grand Valley State University Siedman College of Business, a program of which she was instrumental in establishing in the late 1990s. Her expertise in relationships is both formal and empirical: she holds a doctorate in strategic management/organizational theory from Southern Illinois University; and spent the formative years of her career working in South American as the Director of Overseas Programs for Catholic Relief Services. While Sanchez says it was challenging at first to work in a language foreign to her own, persistence, and undoubtedly an innate and gracious curiosity helped her find success.
“I studied Spanish in high school, and a little in college, but it was a good two years before I was really confident,” she said. “Language became a big eye-opener for me, the different ways that people understand the world and the way they use language to communicate became really interesting to me. Language turned me on to a whole different way of looking at the world by listening to the way other people use it.”
She also learned how relationships differ across cultures, in particular how the United States is somewhat of an outlier.
“In the United States, we get to know people by asking, ‘What do you do?’” she said. “Whereas in other cultures, there is more of an emphasis on the personal. Even if you know people from a work point of view, it is important to talk about those things that we all care about: your mom, your kids, your significant other, where you work out, what you like to eat, etc. It can surprise people, but sometimes the best way to make a connection is asking about those things, and saying, ‘I care about those things, too.’ That can be really important to those relationships through and being able to call on people and ask them to help you or them asking you to help … that all circles back.”
Upon returning to the United States, Sanchez sought to transition what she learned about international organizations while working internationally into studying and teaching it.
“At Grand Valley, I started putting together this program which would teach students the fundamentals of how to conduct business oversees from a technical level but also how to conduct themselves in a business environment by learning about cross-cultural differences and how to manage themselves.”
Through the study abroad business program, Sanchez is able to facilitate for business students those same invaluable, life-changing experiences she had while working abroad.
“All business students, and anyone who does business at all, would benefit from some international experience,” she said. “The world is global and business is global and markets are global, but it’s more that students can understand that there are differences between us, but on the other hand there are a lot of similarities.
Sanchez says that taking the time to build relationships and facilitate understanding is key to leveraging business to solve both small and large problems.
“We all want the best for our families. We all want to make our lives better, and the more people that understand that those things are important to everybody around the world, the better. We all have the same problems, in different degrees. And as business people, we are solving problems every day. Only by understanding that are we able to solve big, big problems.”
ATHENA, an affinity group of the Grand Rapids Chamber, provides the information, access, and connections to support the professional development of women professionals in West Michigan. The scheduled events and programs of ATHENA are built upon 8 Principles: Learning, Relationships, Celebration & Joy, Courageous Acts, Fierce Advocacy, Authentic Self, Collaboration, and Giving Back.
ATHENA Grand Rapids focuses on issues and topics relevant to women professionals at all career levels in corporations, small businesses, public and non-profit organizations within our community. The program offers the annual ATHENA Award and ATHENA Young Professional Award, scholarships to women, and leadership forums and events.
What is ATHENA International?
ATHENA International is a non-profit organization that aims to support, develop, and honor women leaders in local communities all around the world through scholarships, leadership forums, and recognizing women of excellence.