Shelby Sly & Hannah Poplack: The Women Who Mean Business

Meet Shelby Sly and Hannah Poplack, the dynamic duo who are creating a community of support and success for women at Cal Poly.

HCCP: To begin, what are your majors?

Shelby Sly: So I'm a Business Major, concentrating in IS, with minors in Statistics and Women's and Gender Studies.

Hannah Poplack: And I'm also a Business Major with a concentration in Finance, with minors in Law and Society and Political Science.

HCCP: What organizations are you involved in at Cal Poly?

SS: Well we're co-Presidents of Women in Business, and I'm also a part of Mustang Consulting, and I work for the Business Technology Lab.

HP: I've been a part of the College of Business Ambassadors since I was a freshman, Women in Business, obviously, and I'm a member of Chi Omega.

HCCP: How did Women in Business begin?

SS: Well initially, we were both starting similar organizations at the same time…

HP: We were mortal enemies.

SS: So towards the end of 2014 we had separate but similar visions for an organization like this, and we were going through the same steps, but we kept having these weird run-ins with each other.

HP: Yeah people I was working with would say "Oh yeah I just talked to Shelby Sly about this", and I would say uhh who is Shelby Sly? I've never met this person.

SS: I received some pretty nasty emails from Hannah…

HP: We emailed about it and Shelby said, "Well, I've been working on this since the fall." And I said "Well, I've been working on it since summer."

SS: We agreed to finally meet and talk about this after about five days of these nasty emails.

HP: I remember walking out of that meeting thinking, wow I really like her. We realized that if we work together, we can actually do this.

HCCP: So as the Co-Presidents of Women in Business, what first inspired you to create this organization?

SS: I think we both can agree we saw a visible need for it, but in slightly different ways. For me, I had started a Lean In circle last Fall 2014, but there was so much interest in it that I realized that there's obviously some kind of network resource needed here. As well as separate experiences I've had personally seeing some of the sexism and bias in my major, making it more apparent that there were issues here that needed to be addressed.

HP: Yeah, I was inspired by an experience I had at a club meeting about a year ago, where I was sitting in a room of about 40 people, I was the only girl in the room, and they were planning a golf tournament. I just looked around and realized, there is no opportunity for me here and I don't feel supported. So for me, it was really about creating a sense of community and creating opportunities for students.

HCCP: Are there any events you are currently organizing for the club?

HP: We're really excited about our Spring Conference, Defining Her Future: A Women in Leadership Conference. We're expecting about 400 student attendees, it'll be the largest women's leadership conference at the undergraduate university level. The CEO of GoDaddy, Blake Irving, is going to be keynoting it, along with Theresa Miller from Lionsgate Media. We're bringing in a lot of really cool companies, so there will be a ton of opportunities for students to network, and learn about fields they've probably never explored. We want to highlight everything we've been doing so far and we're really excited for this to be an across-campus day of women's empowerment.

HCCP: So what do you hope the participants will get out of this conference?

SS: More than anything, we'd love to foster that sense of community among women at Cal Poly in general. We want to highlight our shared experiences that we are all here, we're all women at Cal Poly, and that we're here to support each other and help each other grow while addressing those unique obstacles we all have to overcome.

HP: One thing we talk about a lot is this idea that "you can't be what you can't see", so we want to expose students to career paths that ordinarily they might not have the opportunity to explore.

HCCP: You're both very accomplished and busy students, and you bring amazing opportunities to the students of OCOB. How do you make the most of your time?

HP: Well, what we've found is sleeping in the same bed really helps. That's an interesting fact about us, we shared a bed all last summer.

SS: And we paid a ridiculous amount to do it! It was a beautiful house, but it was crazy.

HP: We did that after knowing each other for three months. We actually just celebrated our 1-year anniversary on Facebook.

HCCP: If you guys could do one thing for the rest of your lives, what would it be?

HP: I've been thinking about this a lot. I think having the opportunity to empower the people around [me] is the best experience I've ever had. Getting to wake up every morning and have this tangible impact on people every single day, it’s incredible. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but if I can have a hand in empowering other people on some level every day, that’s all I want to do.

SS: Yeah I agree. Women in Business has helped me identify that I'm happiest when I feel I'm really effecting change in people's' lives, especially in regard to women. I'm incredibly passionate about social justice and women's reproductive health rights, and if I can be for the rest of my life in a position where I can advocate for change in those areas, I'll be happy.

HCCP: What advice do you have for younger students who want to do more with their time at Cal Poly?

HP: I think the most important thing I've learned is how to ask for help. You can't be afraid to ask.

SS: What I always tell freshmen is to start by figuring out what you're really passionate about, because you are going to be much more inclined to spend 24 hours a day doing that thing if you absolutely believe in what you're doing and you love it. We've had people come in and out of Women in Business, and a lot of the reasons for exiting is that it’s an intense workload. People have stayed because they really believe in what we're trying to do and they love doing it.

HP: A lot of younger students will look at what we've done and think, I could never do that. If you had told me a year ago that today this is where Women in Business would be, I would have laughed. You don't know what the future holds, so take every single opportunity open to you, worst case scenario you quit after a few weeks. Take them and see where they go. Why limit yourself?

SS: Yeah what's the worst that could happen? I agree, definitely walking through doors as they open for you, and recognizing that if a door isn’t opening for you, make your own door! Nothing's just going to be handed to you.

HP: That's so important. We wanted leadership opportunities, so we made them ourselves.

SS: Exactly. You want to be president of a club? Start your own club and make yourself president!