Women in Business going and growing strong

From left, Women In Business Club President Belle Rakestraw, Vice President Abbie Gage and Dr. Allison Mason, interim Dean of the Colangelo College of Business. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

The Women in Business Club evokes a painful memory for Dr. Allison Mason.

It also makes her determined to help young women following in her footsteps.

The Colangelo College of Business interim Dean has told Grand Canyon University students of the time when, in her early 20s, she scored an interview with a major U.S. beverage company.

One problem: Typical of the business world back then, the session was with five men. She calls it “a most uncomfortable experience.”

“I left feeling I had no confidence and knew I wouldn’t get the job,” she said. “But I also knew they should have hired me because I’m a great hire.

“I want to empower students. They’re going to be the same age I was. I want them to be able to walk into that interview and show their confidence and just show that they can own the room.”

The turnout for the club's kickoff event was so large, the Colangelo College of Business Building lobby couldn't hold them all. (Tabitha Fouch Photography)

One thing’s for sure: The Women in Business Club, or WIB as its members have taken to calling it, is fully in charge on campus. Though in only its second year, it has nearly 700 members. So many people showed up for its kickoff event this fall (202, to be exact), organizers had to shepherd some of them into a separate classroom, where they watched via Zoom.

Belle Rakestraw, who has moved up to president after co-founder Havilah Houston graduated last spring, sees the club as an opportunity for women to invigorate the workplace with their unique skills.

“Women were designed to be nurturers and life-givers and encouraging. I think it’s a special opportunity, as women, to bring those characteristics into a workplace, bring light into situations and be a problem-solver,” the business management major said. “I think we were gifted with these really awesome characteristics. We just want women to feel confident in them.”

Abbie Gage, who has moved up to replace Rakestraw as vice president, said the goal is to help women find what they want to do, even if it’s not in business. But the club also wants to educate both men and women – men are welcome to join.

“We’re definitely not trying to push a feminist agenda, by any means,” Gage said. “I feel like men are supported by other men, and we also want men to support women and women to support men. Let’s find our place and support each other.”

The club's events show a lot of polish, including professional signage. (Tabitha Fouch Photography)

Gage’s perspective is colored by the fact that she changed majors, also to business management, after her freshman year.

Before the switch, “I had no idea about business. I thought it was just a catch-all major. I didn’t really understand how many different facets of business there are.”

Now she’s inspired to lead the way for women in a similar position.

“I want to help women find what they want to do, even if it’s not in business,” she said.

The club certainly has helped Rakestraw and Gage figure out what they want to do. Rakestraw, who wants to pursue an HR career, landed a human resources job at GCU thanks to Vice President Reena Green, who spoke at a club event. Gage dreams of becoming a paralegal for a firm that focuses on pro-life issues.

Students met with industry professionals -- and potential future employers -- at the speed networking event. (Tabitha Fouch Photography)

The club’s events this fall were geared toward helping women take the first steps toward that goal. After the kickoff, at which Mason spoke, there were meetings to preview the new student-to-student mentorship program, provide interviewing and networking skills, and give the women a chance to have professional headshots taken.

About 50 student mentors are working with three times as many mentees. “That’s a cool thing about Women in Business – the opportunity for all freshmen to gain more senior advice,” Gage said.

But there also are ways for students to connect with employers. A speed networking event in late November paired about 40 club members with 20-25 professionals.

Much more is planned for the spring (see tentative list below), including the second annual Girls on the Green event at GCU Golf Course. The focus is on creating quality events with top-notch women from the business world.

The Women in Business Club 2022-23 officers (from left): Abbie Gage, Vice President; Lily Portale, Director of Mentorship; Belle Rakestraw, President; Avery Jones, Director of Marketing; Maya Strautman, Director of Events; Kennedy Herschberger, Secretary and Treasurer; Olivia Abraham, Director of Content Creation. (Tabitha Fouch Photography)

It’s great to have this many members so soon after the club was formed. But Rakestraw and Gage aren’t resting on the early success.

“Last year was awesome. The numbers were great,” Rakestraw said. “But how do we provide value and give girls takeaways from this club? We just want them to walk away with valuable experience and connections that they can call on for many years to come and an instilled purpose in helping them navigate that.”

It all makes Mason smile. While she still sees a business world that is dominated by men, it’s changing slowly. The Women in Business Club will help GCU continue that shift.

“I’ve worked for males who, for the most part, have been supportive of me,” Mason said. “It wasn’t a gender thing. They knew the work I could do and the value I could bring.

“But, still, you get to those points where in your larger meetings, the female voice isn’t always heard. That is part of my motivation. We need to continue to empower our females to feel comfortable in the boardroom, even when they are the only woman in the room.”

Just like she once was.

Contact Rick Vacek, Senior Manager for Internal Communications, at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


POSSIBLE SPRING SEMESTER EVENTS (tentative; dates to be determined)

  • Club meeting: Real estate industry
  • Phoenix Suns panel and game
  • Club meeting: Entertainment/media industry
  • Girls on the Green, Year 2 
  • Conference
  • Club Meeting: Finance industry panel with Charles Schwab 
  • Camelback Ranch spring training collaboration with Sports and Entertainment Business Club
  • Trinity Capital office tour
  • Club Meeting: Social media/marketing agency panel
  • April Showers bring WIB Flowers


Related content:

GCU News: After just 1 meeting, Women in Business Club is a hit

GCU News: Panel of women business leaders sets the pace

GCU News: Naegeli among AZ's most influential women


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GCU Magazine

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