Interview with Martha McKenna

We recently chatted with Martha McKenna (MBA, Carey, 2012) and asked her about her experience in the Hopkins Women in Business (WIB) affinity group. Here’s what she had to say.
JHAA: Thanks for joining us today to talk, Martha! Before we get started, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?
MM: Sure. First of all, as of the Spring of 2012, I’m finishing up my MBA at the Carey Business School. At the same time, I’m a partner at McKenna Pihlaja, a media consulting firm that delivers winning political campaign strategies to political candidates seeking elected office at the state and national levels. People who want to find out more about my firm can visit us online at Between school and media consulting, I’m pretty busy.
JHAA: How did you hear about the Hopkins’ WIB club?
MM: I got an email during the spring of 2011 when I was mid-way through my MBA, announcing the Hopkins Women in Business group. It caught my attention because it was the first time I’d received an email highlighting a business resource specifically designed for Hopkins women. I immediately replied and said that I’d love to help get the group started.
JHAA: Aside from the initial interest, why did you become involved—and stay involved—with WIB?
MM: I wanted to connect with other women who were in business. I figured that a fun, convenient, and rewarding way would be to get involved in a business community that was geared towards Hopkins women. At the time, my firm was only a year old and I was looking to meet other women who were involved in entrepreneurship, communications, and other areas of business I was engaged in. There’s a lot of power in networking among women. I’m very happy to have this opportunity.
JHAA: Since you’ve been involved in WIB from the very beginning, tell us a bit about its growth and what it’s become today.
MM: When we got started in the summer of 2011, we were able to create a bunch of learning and networking opportunities based upon the resources we had at our disposal at the time. It wasn’t a lot, but from day one, we realized that the business community of Hopkins women was a great mix of energy and cooperation.
We started with a happy hour for DC and Baltimore folks. Building on the excitement the happy hour generated, Anne Costlow, founder of Sofi’s Crepes, came and did an incredible entrepreneurship and networking event for us. Anne is a powerful speaker, and her story of starting Sofi’s Crepes is unbelievably inspiring. The energy in the room after her presentation was palpable. That one event created a buzz that’s still going strong today.
In fact, it was at that event that I first began to grasp what made WIB special: WIB provides exactly what women entrepreneurs and businesspeople are looking for in a business group. It’s not just socializing. It’s not just business. It’s not just networking and education. It’s a powerful blend of all these and more in a friendly and inviting atmosphere that facilitates and educates as much as it entertains and inspires.
We started with 12 members in 2011 and within just a few months, we’d grown to 100. We’re now well above that number. The group’s really exploded in terms of enthusiasm, membership, and activity, and we’re not showing any signs of slowing down. Our events are so popular that if you don’t RSVP immediately, you’re probably not going to get in.
JHAA: Tell us a bit about the WIB vibe. What’s it like to actually be a part of the group?
MM: It’s high energy, well organized, diverse, and exceptionally welcoming. It’s definitely not a high-pressure type of environment. At it’s core, WIB is simply a group of individuals who are interested in learning beyond just getting their MBA. We want to sharpen our skills, broaden our networks, and have some fun while we’re at it.
JHAA: Why should women join WIB?
MM: Speaking for myself, I’ve experience two main benefits. First, as a entrepreneur who’s always looking for new ways to learn and grow, I’ve been exposed to women who have a more matured business model and that I and others can learn from. These group members have learned critical business lessons, and they share valuable insight with us when we meet. Second, it’s a great place to be able to recruit smart, prepared, energetic interns.
JHAA: Who’s a part of WIB?
MM: There’s a good blend of age, experience, and occupation in WIB, which means we have both the experience that comes from seasoned entrepreneurs and business leaders and the passion and energy that comes from interns and students who are just now starting to make their way. We also represent a lot of locations—from DC to Baltimore and everything in between, particularly Columbia and Montgomery County.
No matter where you live, where stage you’re at in your career, or what your occupation is, WIB is a welcoming place that satisfies lots of needs for lots of women.
JHAA: What are typical WIB events?
MM: We have happy hours both in DC and Baltimore as well as networking events, entrepreneurship events, a special speaker’s series, and lots of lunch-hour conference calls and members can call in to. We work to rotate where our events and happy hours are so women can participate regardless of their location in the greater Baltimore/DC area.
JHAA: What kind of time commitment does WIB require?
MM: The beauty of WIB is that you can give as much or little time as you want, but you still get a lot in return in terms of networking, opportunities, education, etc. All Hopkins women involved in business are welcome in WIB—we want them all to be a part of the group.
Sometimes we don’t want to join a group because of feared expectations of overwhelming commitment. WIB is a great group in that you don’t have to participate a lot to get a lot out of it.
JHAA: Any final thoughts about WIB?
MM: This group opens door for people. And as group evolves and grows, there’ll be lots of different opportunities and offshoot activities based on what members are looking to learn an get out of the group.