Rauterkus ‘perfect choice’ to deliver keynote speech for women’s conference

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Maintaining work-life balance is no simple task. For women, it can be especially challenging.

stephanie_rauterkuswebStephanie Rauterkus, Ph.D., assistant professor of business, wears many hats. She’s a wife, mother, sister, daughter, teacher, researcher, blogger and community volunteer. It’s a workload that would be daunting for anyone.

“Everybody wants you to be who they want you to be, and all of these things that we’re pulled to do are very important,” Rauterkus says. “But at the end of the day, I always go back to the thing my mom told me again and again when I was a kid — at the end of the day you’ve got to be able to look yourself in the mirror and be happy with the person who looks back at you. And if that is that great mom or teacher or whatever — that’s fine, but it’s the person you feel comfortable with.”

Rauterkus will be the keynote speaker for the Birmingham Area Consortium for Higher Education’s (BACHE) 2011 Women’s Conference, which will focus on finding balance in work and life.

The conference will be held in the Hill University Center Great Hall Wednesday, March 30, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Cost for the conference is $35 per person or $15 for students. Lunch is included.

BACHE, UAB, Army ROTC Blazer Battalion and the Women’s Exchange of Birmingham are event sponsors. Marilyn Kurata, Ph.D., director for Core Curriculum Enhancement, and Gaye Wilson, manager of Academic Systems and Operations for Office of Academic Programs and Policy are co-chairs of the event.

Wilson says Rauterkus’ background makes her extremely qualified to give the conferences’ keynote address.

“She’s the perfect choice because she is a mother, employed full time, and yet she manages to run a household,” Wilson says. “She brings a lot of experience to the table, and that’s what we need as working women. We need someone who knows what they’re talking about and who lives it every day with us, and she does. She’s in the trenches every day.”

Wilson says she gets an enthusiastic response every time she talks about the conference with other women and they hear Rauterkus is giving the keynote address.

“One of the first things they ask is, ‘Is that the lady who writes the 365daysonabudget blog?’ and I say, ‘That’s the one,’” Wilson says. “Just this morning someone told me, ‘I love that woman.’ This blog that she started as a hobby has emerged into an international help desk for working women. It’s just remarkable.”

Rauterkus says while she was surprised to be asked to give the keynote address, she considers it an honor. She says writing her speech has proven to be difficult.

“I’ve actually been spending a lot of time trying to put my remarks together, and there are a lot of crumpled pieces of paper in my waste basket,” Rauterkus says. “Nobody’s story — including mine — is one-size-fits-all. What works for me may not apply to everyone. But I always look for the common themes. That’s what researchers do. You try to look for a common theme within any problem or issue you’re working on and see how that transfers to others.”

Be who you are

Rauterkus does not want to give away everything on her mind before the conference. But one thing she stresses is to be comfortable in your own skin.

“One thing I can say about myself is that I feel pretty good about who I am,” she says. “And I’ve noticed that when I focus on that, all the other stuff works itself out.

“When you feel crummy about who you are and you feel stressed out about it, it projects,” Rauterkus says. “If I can’t get excited or make something of an opportunity given to me, then it’s not the opportunity for me. And that’s a tough lesson to learn, especially as a women, because we take care of people and things. That’s what we’re expected to do, and that’s what we feel like we need to do.”

Because of those expectations — both internal and external — it can be hard for women to find balance.

More women are entering the workforce, and many are facing issues they’ve never experienced or seen others experience.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported 72 million women, or 59.2 percent, were labor force participants in 2009. Women comprised 46.8 percent of the total U.S. labor force and are projected to account for a 51.2 percent of the increase in total labor force growth between 2008 and 2018.

Still, Rauterkus says in some ways our culture isn’t as understanding about women in the work force as one might think.

For example, four years ago when she and her husband Andreas joined the School of Business, they were touring their children’s new school when she had an interesting conversation with another parent.

“She asked, ‘So what brings your husband to Birmingham?’ and I said, ‘Oh, he’s going to be working at UAB,’” Rauterkus says. “And she said, ‘Now, you don’t plan on working do you?’ I said to myself, ‘Oh, it’s different here, isn’t it?’”

Rauterkus has even faced questions about her decision to pursue a professional career from family members.

“I remember my step-grandmother giving me a hard time many years back,” Rauterkus says. “She was an older women from a different era, and she used to tell me that I was mannish for having a career. Before I got married, she said, ‘That’s why you’re not married. You’re too mannish. I don’t know why you have a real career instead of something to pass the time until you find someone.’ She was telling me that you don’t wear pants. If you have to have a job, don’t wear the Hillary Clinton pants suits. You need to wear skirts and dresses. There are all these perception issues about how are we supposed to behave that men just don’t face.”

Trailblazers pave the way

But many have overcome those perceptions and become role models to Rauterkus and other women. She mentions Clinton, Maya Angelou and UAB President Carol Garrison as women who have had tremendous impact on her.

“I was watching Dr. Garrison at a basketball game recently, and I just like her composure,” Rauterkus says. “I like her style. I like the way she’s able to speak to a crowd in a convincing fashion on a moment’s notice. I hope to achieve that.”

She also has sentimental choices, like her mother and grandmother. Rauterkus’ mom received her doctorate in her 40s when she was raising two children as a single parent. Her grandmother raised five children in the South, singlehandedly, on public assistance and eventually became a homeowner.

“All of these women have common themes, and what I admire is that they’re trailblazers in their own way,” Rauterkus says. “They have unparalleled strength, quiet strength — strength of character and strength of conviction. That’s what I’m hoping to achieve. I’m still a work in progress, but hopefully I’ll get there.”

Rauterkus says she will blog about the upcoming conference and why $35 is a bargain to hear the messages women will receive throughout the day. She is hopeful the women who attend the event will come with pad and pencil ready to take notes and get a list of resources to help them as they search for ways to balance family and a career.

“Women need opportunities like this conference where we can come together and help each other,” Rauterkus says. “That’s the greatest thing I’ve found in trying to find ways to advance my career and mental health and support my family. I can’t do it by myself. There have been some incredible people that have helped me. And because of them, I know I can’t turn my back on anybody.”

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