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, is on a mission. “Women make a great impact in the economy and the workplace,” she says. “The mission for the Center for Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) is to promote the advancement of women.”
Lau is a successful leader in a male–dominated industry, but she’s not interested in talking about her success. Her goal is to take the lessons she and other successful business women have learned and share that knowledge with the next generation of young women in the School of Business. These lessons and much more will be offered through the Center for Women’s Leadership Initiative.
Alan Shao, dean of the School of Business understand the importance of this mission, both for businesswomen and for the College’s business school.
“By championing women in business, the School of Business plays a crucial role in transforming industries and creating positive social change. Working with Joanna allows us to reinforce our commitment to diversity and inclusion and position ourselves as a resource to students and the business community.”
In February 2020, Lau and her committee launched the first annual Women for Women (W4W) Summit to “test the waters.” The summit, a one-day event with panel discussions, workshops and networking sold out, confirming the demand for Lau’s vision. They raised more than $50,000 for the College for future events. Speakers included women like Joan Amble, who is co-founder, chair emeritus and director of W.O.M.E.N. In America, a leadership program designed to enable women in business to achieve their maximum potential.
“I was so honored to a part of the W4W event,” says Amble. “The inaugural event focused on inspirational stories of women of courage, resilience and a desire to pay it forward to the women who follow us. Of particular note was the attendee and speaker diversity of experiences and backgrounds as well as professional and personal journeys. This, combined with the mutual desire to celebrate, elevate and connect made it an event to be remembered.”
“It was an honor to listen to so many amazing women, including former United Nations Ambassador and Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley who received the Woman of Courage award, says international business major Olivia Soccio ’21. “I am so proud to be a student at an institution that empowers women in business and hosts events such as this one.”
The summit was just the tip of the iceberg. Lau plans for the center to be an incubator that will promote the advancement of women in the workplace. This center will offer mentorship programs, curriculum support for faculty and various resources for women in business.
“In my experience, many companies have difficult conversations with female employees,” says Lau. “The WLI will be a place where we can mentor and coach students, women in the workplace and businesses to navigate these conversations. It will engage constituents and draw on our network of alumni to heighten the skills of young women and give them the resources they need to enter the business world.”
The committee is already planning the next summit, which will take place in fall 2021. The theme is resiliency and diversity and will address mental health issues during the pandemic.