Ann Drake gives keynote at 2017 Tippie Women Summit event
March 26, 2017
Molly Duffy

As an executive of a leading supply chain management firm, Ann Drake is often the only woman in the room.

At cocktail parties, she said she used to try to strike up conversations with groups of businessmen only to be met with uncomfortable silence. Once, when she was the only woman at a golf game, the businessman she was supposed to share a golf cart with looked at her and left.

“It’s not over yet, and things will happen to you,” the CEO of Des Plaines, Ill.-based DSC Logistics told a room of mostly women at the University of Iowa’s Levitt Center on Saturday. “We’re still not equal everywhere.”

Dozens of women—many students at the UI Tippie College of Business, UI faculty members, and local businesswomen—attended the Tippie Women Summit on Saturday, which featured Drake as the keynote speaker.

For Drake, she said her male counterparts learned her name after she was the first—and still the only—woman to be awarded the Council of Supply Chain Management and Professionals’ Distinguished Service Award in 2012.

The next year, she founded a group that promotes women’s excellence in supply chain management. She is also involved with Paradigm for Parity, a coalition of senior executives, board members, and business academics working for workplace gender parity by the year 2030.

During her speech, Drake said her life didn’t all go as planned after she graduated from the University of Iowa. She had a career in interior design before she enrolled in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She then had a spot on the advisory board of directors at Dry Storage Corp., which her father founded, before she was hired as vice president for strategy and culture.

But during that professional rise, Drake said she also spent years being “mortified” as she learned the workings of DSC Logistics on the job.

“So often as women we hear, when you have that struggle, keep it to yourself,” said Shelby Vroman, a 20-year-old undergrad studying business analytics. “A lot of us are going into male-dominated fields, so it’s really nice to hear another woman’s perspective about how she’s been battling that, and how she has made her mark.”

Drake told attendees at the event that joining and creating women’s networking groups, where she learned other women felt the same way she did, boosted her confidence in the workplace.

“I think there is nothing more important than confidence for women,” she said. “When I look at the women who work for me, at the women I coach, that’s the No. 1 thing you have to do is get more confidence. You all deserve it.”

Hearing about the hardships professional women have overcome can be a relief for women still in their early careers, Tippie College of Business Dean Sarah Gardial said. It tells them they’re not “the only one in the room who doesn’t know everything,” she said.

“The reality is, women move forward into those leadership positions even as we hold these feelings that maybe we’re not quite confident enough, maybe we don’t know quite enough,” Gardial said. “You’ve got to push through that.”

The college’s Women Summit is meant to give students the tools and the skills to overcome bias in the workplace, Gardial said.

According to the Paradigm for Parity website, women hold only 24 top executive positions among all S&P 500 companies and of the 9,976 top positions at Fortune 1,000 companies, 1,835 are held by women.

“There’s an assumption among a lot of the younger women here that we fought all these battles in the ’70s and we’re done,” she said. “And we’re not. They need to kind of steel themselves for the world they’re going to walk into, which won’t always be welcoming to them because of their gender.”

Still, both Drake and Gardial seemed optimistic about the next generation of women in the workplace.

“This generation of students, the undergrads, were raised in a generation where we told girls ‘you can do whatever you want,’ ” she said. “That’s not true of my generation, that’s not true of Ann’s generation. ... They do carry that sense of empowerment, and so then what we need to do is get them some tools to act on that.”