“You sit in a class and you’re one of only a few, and you don’t know why you feel so uncomfortable, but you are, and you don’t really know why you feel like you have to prove yourself, but you do. There were just all these gaps and you can’t really piece them together and you’re like why am I feeling this way?” It wasn’t until Cal Poly alumna Shelby Sly took a gender, science, race and technology class, which discussed the intersection of gender across all these parameters, that she began to validate what she was feeling. “A lot of these things that I’ve been feeling, like feeling inadequate or depressed or uncomfortable started to make sense,” Sly said. “I was able to piece together that I didn’t feel like I had a community or place that I could feel support. I wasn’t looking for the sorority kind of support, but I was looking for like-minded women.”

After expressing her feelings to a close friend from high school who went to the University of Washington, she learned about a club on their campus called Women in Business. She thought about a Lean In circle she had started that quarter, and how what was supposed to be a small group had garnered interest from at least 20 people. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that there were really amazing, ambitious women in the business school who had no real way of connecting. After some searching, she met Hannah Popleck, who was also planning on starting a WIB on campus. Despite many hurdles and setbacks, together they set out to build a club based on the mission to build, support and empower women. In 2015, they became the co-founders and co-presidents of what is now one of the largest clubs at Cal Poly.   

Today, Cal Poly WIB boasts membership of over 300 students both within the Orfalea College of Business and beyond. Our monthly meetings offer workshops, speakers, helpful professional development tips and networking to our members. Beyond that, we have the opportunity to engage hundreds of high school students, alumni and professionals in programming that spans all three quarters.

In fall, freshmen have the chance to participate in Entry Engagement, which pairs them up with mentors to transition them smoothly into college and teach them soft skills. In the winter, the Women’s Business Leadership Academy, which also counts for class credit, then builds in those professional skills every young businesswomen should learn— a strong resume and LinkedIn, how to network, building executive presence, among many other things. This all culminates in the annual Defining Her Future Conference which, in 2019, brought in over 600 students, professionals and community members to listen to industry leaders speak on grit and resilience. Additionally, 2019 is the second year in which WIB has partnered with Salesforce— where Shelby now works— to host 12 female students for a three-day professional development bootcamp at its headquarters in San Francisco. The High School Engagement Committee visits local high schools to bring professional development workshops and mentoring to younger women in our community. Additionally, this year was the first annual Wander with WIB event where 50 conditionally admitted female business students were invited to campus and hosted by WIB.

The Women in Business Wire was also founded by WIB’s outreach team. This platform for female voices reports on local, national and global events and highlights influential women in the community. The Wire now has an audience that extends far past the club or even business students, and is recognized as a campus wide publication.  

Our story is not unique. Women on college campuses across California have mobilized for this cause in recent years and created their own Women in Business Associations. Cal Poly WIB is thrilled and inspired by the rapid growth of Women in Business organizations on California college campuses alone. This post is just the beginning of our commitment to find opportunities to connect other organizations— in California and beyond—  together as we strive for similar and powerful goals.

Here we highlight responses from several of the remarkable California Women in Business organizations we connected with this last year—specifically their founding stories, programming and mission. While we are thrilled to highlight these remarkable organizations, we also note that there are many more organizations in California that are making a positive impact on their campuses:

This map is a work-in-progress as we continue to find and connect with other organizations, and if there is an organization that we are missing on our map, please let us know by emailing  cpwiboutreach@gmail.com.

Finally, if you are interested in starting a Women in Business at your institution, we hope this sheds light on the opportunities and impact that await, and we encourage you to reach out with any questions you might have!