Brenda founded Providing Opportunity for Women in 2015 when her and a group of friends recognized the need for a women’s business organization at SFSU. She graduated in 2017 and worked in Technology Investment Banking at a bulge bracket firm. Brenda is now transitioning into a new career as an investment associate at a mutual fund. She will be researching and investing in companies listed on the stock market.
What was your first real experience like at POW? When did you know this idea was going to be a success?
It was one of the first workshops we did, called the FEAR workshop, led by one of the founders, Jessica Aldus. FEAR stood for “False Expectations of Appearing Real”. It was an exercise about how we put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we think things are going to be a certain way, but it turns out our expectations are usually blown out of proportion.
We passed around a flashcard asking students questions like “What is your biggest fear, professionally or academically?” Then we got into groups and tried to figure out what are other ways to frame this, so that it wouldn’t be a fear. Then everyone shared their “fears”, and it was a huge emotional experience. It became this huge emotionally thing. And we figured out that everyone has the same fears and that you’re not alone. It had a huge impact on everyone, including me.
The room was just packed. There were 30 people, all women - women from business, some from the design school, some liberal arts people. Everyone’s jaws dropped. People were telling us that this was the best workshop they’ve ever been to from a student org, saying “How did you organize something like this?” And we all looked at each other saying, “Ok, this is going to be good.” We’re definitely going to make a positive impact here at SFSU.
What is one goal you accomplished while being in POW?
Aside from building all of the programs from the ground up, we [the founders] put together a list of values that drive the organization forward. Any new or existing initiative that we took on had to pass the value test. If it doesn’t pass this value or that value, why are we doing it? We had a mission, we had a vision, and we had values. We worked hard to establish the right culture. It was quite an accomplishment, and we were adamant about doing the right thing.
What is your ideal lifestyle or end goal?
When I look at people that I aspire to be like, or people that I admire, the thing that I admire most are those who give back. The reason why I’m here today is not because of what I did, but because of the people who helped me along the way.
There’s this person named Chris Haroun who used to teach at SFSU, he was a big Venture Capitalist and investor. He’s done it all in finance. He started his own company, his own venture fund. I met him when I was in college. He will go to the end of the Earth to help someone. I think so fondly about that characteristic, that quality of his. I just think “When I retire, I want someone to think that about me.” And if I were to tell him how many times he’s helped me, he would turn around and tell me, “Is that it? I wish I could have helped you more.” That’s the kind of person he is. That’s the definition of success for me and I hope that I will do that one day.
What was your favorite thing about POW?
Getting to work with some of the smartest women, like my friends, in trying to build this organization. It's a shared common goal that we had. We tried to problem-solve together, basically running a mini company. That’s probably my favorite thing about POW: the people aspect, trying to get to work with people I enjoy spending my time with and being able to understand what it’s like to build an organization.
Some of the professionals that we met - they were incredible. The amount of resources they offered, and the most important one being the resource of time. They gave so much of their time in order to help us.
What was one of your most favorite memories during POW?
The speaker series had a huge impact on me because each speaker taught me something new. The first speaker we had was Dawn Dobras. She’s a rockstar, a businesswoman, she’s worked at huge companies and built a lot of start-ups from the ground up. She is the CEO of an incredible startup called Credo Beauty. I remember her telling us this statistic on women-run businesses. She said that women-run businesses are on the rise because of AWS [Amazon Web Services]. Because AWS makes it so easy and cheap for anyone to build their business on top of AWS. Before AWS, the people who could afford to build large digital businesses were people who had access to a lot of capital. Generally the people who had access to a lot of capital don’t look like you and me [women]. Dawn and all of the other speakers had their own insight on how the world is becoming a better place.
Another favorite thing is becoming really close to the leadership team. We had social events to get to know everyone and attract members. One of the things we did was we went swing dancing - we went into town to a place that had a live band and an instructor that taught the steps for swing dancing. We just went swing dancing all night with 20 women. We bonded and we had a lot of fun.
How do you apply the things that you've learned during the workshops to your job?
I’ve applied the skills I’ve learned from POW basically every day. The Fear Workshop comes in handy because I’m the type of person that will blow everything out of proportion. I try to keep that exercise in mind all the time.
The resume workshops are gold, it’s the reason why I’ve gotten my foot in the door every time.
The Speaker Series, when you get perspective from different people, different parts of the world, different industries, it opens your eyes to look at problems not from a myopic view, but rather try to analyze things from a 360 view. Speaker Series really opens up your world view at how you approach life, business, work, or anything.
What accomplishments are you most proud of while being in POW?
It took a while to realize this, but I am proud of my legacy at POW. When I get emails from someone I never met telling me that POW has impacted their life so much, that they got an internship or dream job because of it. Or if a student from POW says, “Hey, do you want to meet up? I’d love to have some coffee with you and meet you,” those are probably the best accomplishments.