Beverly Wall left her rural roots to move to Grand Rapids in 1976 and pursue her dream of becoming a successful woman business owner. Today, she is the owner of several companies—including Languages International Inc. a once-struggling company that she was able to turn around with a two hundred percent sales increase in less than two years.
She has been recognized by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce with an ATHENA award and is counted in the 50 Most Outstanding Business Owners in West Michigan and 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan. Now that she has realized many of her career goals, she turns her attention to helping other women lead well.
When Beverly recalls her own leadership journey, she credits Toastmasters International for providing her a context in which to develop as a leader and the opportunity help others grow. She loved facilitating people as they developed their confidence and communication skills. Next, she developed her leadership practices in the nonprofit world. “At one point,” she joked, “a person added up my years of service on nonprofit boards and it equaled more years than I had lived.” Those nonprofit experiences gave her leadership insights that she still applies today.
Beverly has always been an advocate for women in leadership. She knows that women can lead well, but wonders why some women choose not to, referring to a national trend suggesting there is a shortage of women in top leadership roles across the country. “There are so many opportunities for women,” she said confidently, and then wondered aloud, “Why aren’t they taking them? Why are women stepping back from leadership roles?”
One possible reason, Bev suggests, could be the number of roles and responsibilities a typical woman has in addition to being a business professional—mother, wife, and daughter. “That’s understandable,” she conceded. “We can’t all be Hillary Clinton with a staff and a plane.” But her concern is the negative effect on society. “Their voices are missing from important conversations,” notes Bev, who believes this will have unintended consequences for our society. “My sense is that women are overloaded, but what can we do about it?”
Bev is interested in answering what she could do about this trend. As many good leaders do, Bev is reading to gain insight on the trend of women abdicating leadership roles. Two books, Lean In and Play like a Man, Win Like a Woman are on her desk now. Her goal is to help young women navigate life, business, and leadership. “I have learned from the women who went before me, and now I need to be concerned about helping the next group,” she said. She is currently working with young women at Davenport University’s School of Business.
What does she hope younger women leaders will do? Take risks. “Risk,” Bev smiles, “is where the [leadership] development happens.” She nods toward her desk, where a Thomas Carlyle quote resides: “No pressure, no diamonds.” She explains that pressure is putting oneself to the test, and failure is part of the equation. “I don’t focus on failure," she quickly added, "but I know that it is always a possibility.”
Bev’s attitude toward helping other women lead is best seen as she talks about a favorite song of hers, by jazz artist Deborah Henson-Conant: “Congratulations! You’ve made it this far!” The song celebrates the journey while reminding the listener that it isn’t over and to keep striving. Bev wants women leaders to celebrate and keep moving forward—to celebrate how far they each have come in life, leadership, and business, and to go on challenging themselves and their world.
Written by: Tamara Rosier, Ph.D. Tamara has been a college administrator, a professor, a leadership consultant, a public speaker, and a high school teacher. As a consultant, Tamara has successfully worked with numerous companies, churches, and nonprofit organizations to develop stronger teams, create strategic plans, and facilitate leadership and organizational development. She received her Ph.D. in Teaching, Learning and Leadership from Western Michigan University. Tamara can be reached at [email protected].