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Women in Business: Challenges, Sacrifices and Successes

February 17, 2021
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As controller for Pride Conveyance in Hollister, California, Martha Walters manages the finances and cash flow for the local entity of a multinational company, overseeing payroll, accounts payable and receivable, and some administrative duties. She has five direct reports and works closely with the CFO, to whom she reports, and with the local branch president and director of operations.

This accomplished businesswoman and MBA (‘20) was recently named an award recipient at CSUMB—an achievement that’s all the sweeter because her path to it was difficult. She has surmounted challenges that many women in manufacturing and other professional fields will find familiar, as well as ones with more personal roots.

Read on to learn more about this standout member of the CSUMB community.

Top Priority: Education

In reflecting on her background, Martha said, “I am the daughter of immigrants who worked the fields and completed odd jobs to keep food on the table, and they did it with the intent of giving us a better life. I come from a big family [and I’m the] first in my family to go to college. For my parents, education was always paramount. [They said,] ‘You're going to go to college. We'll find a way to pay for it. You're going to go.’”

“I remember my mom completing her GED when I was in college. My dad had maybe a third-grade education. He grew up in a family of limited means and I remember him arguing with his siblings because he was so intent on us completing college.” She recalled her relatives’ view as, “‘Well, they're women. They're going to get married and the education's not time well­ spent, it's not money well spent.’”

“It's hard to put into words all the sacrifices that [my parents have] gone through. And it would have been wasteful for me not to take advantage of that opportunity.”

The Importance of Her MBA

Going back to school can be a daunting choice for anyone, but it carried particular weight for Martha, who had struggled in college. “I was working two jobs and didn't have the highest GPA. I wasn't sure that I could complete my MBA.”

So why take it on? “I feel that, although the paradigm is changing in terms of the role that women, and minorities in particular, have in the workplace, it's still an uphill climb. As a female minority in a manufacturing industry, oftentimes, people speak over me. I'm sitting at the table with all these gentlemen and it's almost like I'm not there.”

Choosing Her Program

The CSUMB Online MBA wasn’t the only program Martha considered, but it was the right fit for a number of reasons.

“I looked at the curriculum. It was important for it to contain business strategy and global business. I do believe that's the way our economy is shifting; global business is now inevitable. My decision to go with CSUMB was in part due to the fact that they were pursuing the AACSB, that the curriculum was solid. The tipping point came with the fact that it was a 100 percent online program. I have young children, I have a full­-time job, and I'm about 45 minutes away from campus. Online programs were a must.”

Rising to the Challenge

“It's definitely a juggling act to complete the MBA while working full ­time and being a mom,” she noted. “I needed to set boundaries for myself, to know this is going to be difficult for a little while, but it's going to be worth it.”

She created a schedule that included getting up as early as at 4 a.m. for schoolwork before heading to her job, schoolwork after work (before and after putting her kids to bed), and schoolwork on the weekends.

“I had a great support system at home. My children started to understand that when Mommy's in the office, you can't come in unless it's an emergency. My husband took care of the kids. My sisters helped, so it was really all hands on deck. I think it's definitely possible on your own, but it’s a lot of work and it's very difficult. If it were easy, everybody would have it.”

Heightened Understanding Through a Standout Course

Reflecting on her student experience, Martha called out the Applied Business Strategy Capstone as a high point.

“Because I'm currently in a controller role and I see the ins and outs of the cash flow, understanding how all the different sides relate was important to me. I found it the most interesting of the courses, because it was a compilation of two years' worth of work: going back and reviewing notes and textbooks and trying to find the formula or the concept that would help you understand why your company was succeeding or failing.”

The Outstanding MBA Student Award

Martha’s commitment began paying off even before she graduated. In 2020, she received the CSUMB Outstanding MBA Student Award, which is presented to a student who has earned faculty recommendations and a GPA in the top 10 of the class.

“Being acknowledged by the faculty was humbling because I know the caliber of students in the cohort. Knowing that I was selected from among the people there was special. It was validation that all the hard work was worth it.”

Impact on Her Career

As she hoped, Martha’s experience is enriching her professional life.

“The most impactful takeaway is that I’m becoming more assertive, knowing that the MBA program gave me the tools to perform my job well.”

“I feel more vocal. I'm advocating not just for myself, but for other women, other minorities. I've been empowered by earning my MBA. [I can] go into meetings and feel confident to speak up and know that my opinion matters and that what I have to say should be heard. Earning that MBA and having people know that I deserve to be here is really important for me.”

Impact at Home

Martha’s family feels the benefits of her MBA experience, as well.

“Having a daughter has always made me feel like I'm setting an example for her,” she said. “I don't want her growing up thinking, ‘I don't know how to do that, or it's going to be too difficult, so I'm not going to try.’ She does have a pretty good understanding that if you want something badly enough, it will take time and a lot of sacrifices, but it will be worth it. For her to see a minority female in a cohort with women and men accomplishing something like this, I'm hoping that it's motivation for her to pursue her dreams and not give up. I'm hopeful that she sees this and thinks, ‘If my mom did it, I can do it.’”

“For [my father], it's special to know that this is because of him, because of my parents, because of all the work and the sacrifices that they made to get us to a position where we could attend college, where it wasn't absurd to think that we could belong. Knowing that I not only completed the MBA program, but did well, is acknowledgement for them, too. Having earned my MBA is affirmation that all of my sacrifices, those of my family and my parents, was not time lost.”

Inspiration for Moving Ahead

When it comes to taking on the challenges of graduate school, Martha Walters, award-winning MBA, offered this advice:

“Don't limit yourself. If you don't feel that you're ready, if you don't think you can do it, you need to get your foot in there. Get started. And you will find a way. It is difficult, but if it's something you want, you can make the time, you can find the time. People wake up early to go to the gym. You can wake up early and work on that assignment. The biggest thing is don't give up on yourself. Don't limit yourself.”

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