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The MBS Virtual Book Club

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What happens when two action-focused, women’s leadership advocates connect? They generate excellent ideas. The MBS Virtual Book Club—conceptualized by Kathleen Cashman-Walter and Beth Ann Murphy, Ph.D.—is one such idea that went from concept to reality in less than a month, with the first meeting held on Thursday, March 25, 2021.

“Our goal was to establish and connect a community of like-minded people,” says Cashman-Walter—“Professor Kathleen” to her students—who teaches MBS’s core “Communications & Leadership” course (among many other roles). A book club, with discussions centered around a specific theme or topic, would accomplish that goal, agreed Murphy, MBS’s academic officer, Life Sciences Concentration Coordinator, and Ethics in Science Technology Management course instructor.

From Concept to Market and the Road in Between

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​​​​​​​Since the first meeting was held during Women’s History Month, the book was themed accordingly. Believe IT: How to Go from Underestimated to Unstoppable, by innovator Jamie Kern Lima—co-founder of IT Cosmetics—underscores the fact that entrepreneurial success does not come easy, as she details the multiple rejections, personal struggles, and very low lows she endured in the effort to bring her revolutionary and effective product from concept to market. Kern Lima also highlights personal care science, a subject she extensively researched and one of MBS’s signature concentrations: MBS is one of only three programs in the nation to offer a master's degree in personal care science.

In the end, IT Cosmetics becomes wildly successful, is acquired by L’Oréal for $1.2 billion, and Kern Lima becomes the first female CEO of a L’Oréal brand in company history. However, it’s the mess and guts of the journey—the self-doubt, being near-broke multiple times, and enduring years of hardship before hitting success—that Kern Lima chronicles in three parts: Believe, Risk, and Empower, each of which has a dedicated MBS Book Club discussion. 

BeliefIts Impact on Innovation and Outcomes

“Belief is the separator of success,” says Cashman-Walter, “and that is universal.”

Kern Lima’s deep belief in the value of her product guided her through multiple “no”s, insults, and discouragements—carving a path that resulted in the billion-dollar acquisition of her company. This level of belief—in one’s product and one’s self—is central to entrepreneurial DNA, as innovator Ben Weiss, founder of antioxidant drink, Bai, shared with MBS students last December and also chronicled in his book, Basementality. Weiss’s own belief propelled him in taking Bai from basement-to-$1.7 billion acquisition by Dr. Pepper Snapple Group.

On her path to success, Jamie also encountered gender-based obstacles that men likely bypass; issues such as body-shaming, encounters with mean girls, and rejections interwoven with personal insults—like this one: “We’re going to pass on investing … I’m just not sure women will buy makeup from someone who looks like you. You know, with your body and weight.”

BeliefMain Discussion

Book Club cofounder Kathleen Cashman-Walter instructed all participants to summarize the book in one word. This image depicts a word cloud of those words in bright purple and vibrant blue and violet. Words were: relatable, uplifting, enlightening, thoughtful, inspiring, remarkable, validating, supportive, and dedicated.Cashman-Walter began by asking everyone to share—on a scale from one to ten—their level of belief in themselves. Some participants had a steady number, while others agreed that it depended on the day and context. The larger audience eventually split into four subgroups via virtual chatrooms—reconvening to share their takeaways, which included the importance of:

  • Sticking to your vision and staying true to yourself
  • Building your network and surrounding yourself with like-minded people who bring out the best in you.
  • Understanding your “why” –what drives you –and sticking to it.

By far, however, the most impactful takeaway was learning to trust your gut – listening and building your intuitionAmong participant insights:

 “Your gut is there for a reason, so sticking to it and connecting it to your ‘why’ is critical.”

“Sometimes, you’ve actually Internalized what you know [whether you realize it or not] and you don’t have time to make decisions—so going with your gut is the right thing,”

One group also discussed the level of risk—how Kern Lima believed in her product and pushed ahead when she had less than $1,000 in her bank account…which is exactly when success came through. Risk, of course, is the next discussion.

MBS Book Club: A Virtual Success

Cashman-Walter and Murphy were delighted with the club launch. “It’s another way for women in STEM to connect, network, and support each other,” said Murphy. “I was also glad we could do it in a way that’s less formal than usual.” 

The club was also designed as a means to put tools in students' metaphorical toolboxes—the major tools in this case being support, advice, and encouragement from other women. Cashman-Walter concluded the discussion by asking participants to summarize Belief in one word (above left). She then gave participants two challenges for next time:

  1. “List three beliefs that are keeping you from being a 10 on the scale of self-belief.”
  2. Make a conscious effort, each day, to lift another woman up.

The next discussions for this book are below—and it is not too late to jump in! Anyone is welcome and may register here. Dates are as follows:

  • Thursday, April 8: Part 2: Risk
  • Thursday, April 29: Part 3: Empower

If you have a suggestion for another book theme, please contact Kathleen Cashman -Walter (kc678@docs.rutgers.edu) or Beth Ann Murphy (bam165@docs.rutgers@edu).

About the MBS Virtual Book Club

The MBS Virtual Book Club, established in March 2021, is open to all MBS students, alumni, faculty, and staff. The inaugural book, Believe IT, was selected in honor of Women’s History Month/ Women in STEM. Each month will feature a different theme and topic.

Author(s): 
Jen Reiseman-Briscoe
Published On: 
03/31/2021