RISKY BUSINESS

Challenges in climbing the corporate ladder inspire an entrepreneurship alumna to start a magazine for women professionals

By TERESA KILLIAN TATE

Climbing the corporate ladder for Sheila A. Robinson ME ’11 proved challenging and, at times, lonely. Robinson, former North American marketing director in DuPont’s global textiles division, grappled with concerns about discrimination and whom to trust – who genuinely wanted to support rather than sabotage her advancement. “There was a period in my career that I felt I didn’t have anyone,” said Robinson.

Sheila Robinson

Sheila Robinson ME ’11 (right) publishes Diversity Magazine, which focuses on businesswomen and recently featured CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien. Photo by fabiocamarastudios.com

Today, she offers support for all businesswomen through Diversity Woman, a publishing company and magazine that also hosts special events across the country. Robinson founded the business after DuPont, where she had worked for 14 years, sold the global textiles division. Not interested in relocating, she spent eight months searching for a job when a member of her network encouraged her instead to pursue her idea for a magazine. “I always had a stack when I had to travel for work, but none focused on career and business for women. I said, ‘There needs to be a magazine out there that speaks to us – how I can approach my boss for a raise, who is hiring, who is not, or who is the best company to work for,’” said Robinson.

Although nervous about spending money at a time she needed money, she paid a graphic designer $300 to develop a prototype of North Carolina Career Network and, with support from investors and advertisers, the first issue came out in 2005. Two years later, she narrowed the publication’s focus and relaunched nationally as Diversity Woman. “Although I want to help anyone and everyone with career concerns, the focus was too broad for a national publication,” said Robinson. “I wanted to stick to what I know – my experience as a woman, but for any race, culture and background.”

Meanwhile, the company’s conferences consistently attract 500 participants or more, further helping readers connect and network with each other. “When I finally got to the point where I could pay myself a salary, I thought that would be the most rewarding part of starting this business, but it’s not even near the top of the list,” said Robinson, who works with an editorial team based in California, events team in Washington, D.C., writers in New York, a virtual assistant in Georgia and a webmaster in Missouri. “It’s far more rewarding to hear someone say, ‘You think you are selling magazines, but you are selling dreams,’ or describe a conference as a life-changing experience.”

Robert Lahm, associate professor in WCU’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, said Robinson was an immediate standout in WCU’s entrepreneurship program. “Her passion and leadership were obvious while she was a student, and she has continued to excel,” said Lahm. Recognition for her achievements includes the Image Award given annually by the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference on behalf of historically black colleges and universities. She also was named to Publishing Executive Magazine’s list of 50 Top Women in Magazine Publishing and the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce 2011 Minority Business Person of the Year. Up next for Robinson is a nationwide tour to share her book, “Lead By Example,” which will come out in 2013.

“To be an entrepreneur, you must be fearless,” said Robinson in her column in the spring issue of Diversity Woman. “When I started my business – against all odds and ignoring the naysayers – I wasn’t afraid of the word ‘no,’ and that’s what kept me going.”