There have been many times throughout my post-college career where I have been shamed for my participation in a sorority (shout-out to Alpha Phi). From being assumed to be racist, superficial, and materialistic, the reality is that many of the critics are people who are ignorant about the experience. Being in a sorority, both as a collegiate member and an advisor at several universities throughout the country has taught me countless lessons that I attribute to my success in academia as a professor and in my PR business. So, in an effort to educate and entertain, let me take you through the business lessons I learned as a sorority girl.
Leading Effective Meetings
Putting upwards of 100 smart and funny women, who are all friends, into a room together for a meeting is no easy task! It can be noisy, distracting, and overwhelming, honestly. But, everyone is present for a purpose and my experience showed me that to lead effective meetings you need to give in to the unpredictability, allow for socializing, and have a little fun. Doing so will actually make conducting business easier.
It is also through my experience that I learned different types of meetings from formal to programming/training, sisterhood or team-building in a business sense, and the eternally valuable, “paper meeting.” In fact, it is the paper meeting that I have brought to multiple international organizations since my time as a collegiate member to help share information and save time, when appropriate. My doctoral advisor still remarks about how learning about paper meetings was such a gift to her life (and schedule).
My sorority experience has helped me learn to teach large groups of undergraduate students and lead trainings for clients. It also helped me learn to recognize when large meetings/trainings are an inappropriate forum and when small-group or one-on-one meetings and coaching sessions work better.
As an Alpha Phi, we hosted one large event each year: Red Dress Gala. This event still happens throughout the country and tends to be each chapter’s largest fundraising event for women’s heart health. We include all the members and their families, as well as alumni and other campus groups, and engage with community partners through the silent auction and event production. It takes a team of dedicated women to pull this off each year and chapters can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars through this event which is totally exhilarating.
But, when you’re in your early twenties and planning an event of this scale, it’s learning by doing. Hosting events provides a crash-course in contracts, budgeting, negotiating, sales, and marketing. It’s an invaluable experience that I wish every student could have.
It is through hosting events like Red Dress Gala that I learned how to finesse my communication to create mutually beneficial deals, how to think with an other-oriented mindset, and ultimately, what drew me into hospitality communication. Curating meaningful experiences and helping others share their own offerings is the heart of my business.
There is one time each year when hundreds of young women swarm sorority row with bright eyes, breath mints, and lists of questions for each chapter: recruitment. It is an absolutely exhausting week that requires Olympic-level time management skills and nearly endless energy. During recruitment, you can justify almost anything from taping thousands of balloons to the ceiling until you can hardly lift your arms, using maxi pads as sweat absorbers, and working through high-fevers and family emergencies for the greater good of bettering your chapter and recruiting its future leaders.
While the focus during recruitment is getting to know the potential new members, it’s the relationship building that goes on between existing members that are truly magical. There’s just something about screaming chants into each other’s ears for seven days straight that changes a person (and I’m not being sarcastic). Recruitment is when new friendships form and the bond of sisterhood deepens to create lifelong connections.
Recruitment season taught me how to find common ground with someone in less than two minutes, the importance of researching people before you meet them, and communicating with an open heart and mind. The lessons I learned from Alpha Phi are what help me build relationships with my students and clients that transcend the work we do together through trust, compassion, and generosity.
Working from a Strategy
Each sorority has a clear mission, values, and goals, and of course, I realize this isn’t exclusive to sororities. However, you would be surprised how many brands and businesses I encounter that have no guiding principles but wonder why their struggling. There was not an event, email, social media post, or t-shirt that did not have a purpose.
When there is a constant turnover of the chapter’s leaders the only way to get things done is to have an iron-clad strategy that guides communication. As I learned more about the principles of public relations, I began to realize how central communication is to organizations like sororities. Without goals, there are no strategies, objectives, and most importantly, no measurable success, and there is nothing a sorority girl loves more than winning!
My experience as a collegiate member who reaped the benefits of the working strategy, to holding officer positions where I got to help execute the strategy, and as an advisor who was helping to create the strategy, I learned at each level how there is no success without a strategy. It is this mindset that helps me lead my clients to success and teach my students how to effectively practice public relations.
Personal and Professional Boundaries
This last point is one of the biggest lessons. It is hard to work with people and be friends with them simultaneously. It is also hard to hold your friends/sisters accountable for their actions and create consequences when things go wrong without wrecking your personal relationships. Sorority girls have this mastered and it is an experience I have carried with me ever since my active membership.
The key to personal and professional boundaries, in my opinion, is respect. When you have self-respect, you can more easily and confidently stand up for yourself in tough situations and rely on your inherent strengths to make positive progress. Additionally, when you have respect for others and the organization at large, you can appreciate and understand that sometimes things look different when people put on their work hats and it’s nothing personal and it most certainly doesn’t take away from their personal feelings toward you. True friends support our professional endeavors and respect our boundaries and through my experience in sorority life, I learned this first hand.
Today, I rely on the boundary lessons I learned to create personal relationships with students and clients that go beyond the work we are doing together but do not impede that work, either. I realize that it’s okay to have work and personal life separation but that it’s also okay for the two areas to overlap. I can be a good friend and maintain professionalism and vice versa and with that mindset, everyone gains and succeeds together.