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Sweetwater Middle forum highlights women in business

Gail Edwards of Gwinnett Technical College, left, speaks at a panel discussion of women in business at Sweetwater Middle School on Friday. Also pictured, from left, are Shanti Howard, assistant principal, Isabel Sance, with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Sweetwater Principal Georgann Eaton. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

Gail Edwards of Gwinnett Technical College, left, speaks at a panel discussion of women in business at Sweetwater Middle School on Friday. Also pictured, from left, are Shanti Howard, assistant principal, Isabel Sance, with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Sweetwater Principal Georgann Eaton. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

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Sharlene Smith, left, a McDonald’s vice president and general manager for the Atlanta region, speaks alongside Gail Edwards of Gwinnett Technical College at a panel discussion about women in business on Friday at Sweetwater Middle School. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)

LAWRENCEVILLE — The principal of Sweetwater Middle admitted on Friday that she wasn’t a model student, and in the days before computers, it was easier to get away with skipping around a class.

“I was there to get my ticket punched,” Georgann Eaton said.

As a youngster, Eaton said she didn’t know if she would pursue a four-year college, the military or a community college.

“When I finished,” she said, “I could decide.”

Eaton told students about her parents wondering if she would get married at 16-years-old.

“You don’t have to go to school,” she recalled them saying. “Your husband will take care of you.”

Her message, which was echoed among three panelists that the school hosted, was for a group of 60 eighth-grade girls to be independent, make decisions for themselves, look for mentors and write down goals.

Panelists at the event called “Female Empowerment and Academic Success” were Sharlene Smith, a McDonald’s vice president and general manager for the Atlanta region, Isabel Sance, who works for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Gail Edwards, the dean of the Automotive, Construction and Trades College at Gwinnett Technical College.

Smith said there are plenty of opportunities for women today, more so than 10 or 15 years ago, because companies are increasingly looking for women to be among their senior leadership. Smith said McDonald’s looks for women in traditionally male-dominated departments like real estate, legal and accounting.

“Everytime we talk about talent, women are discussed,” Smith said.

Sance, a native of Spain, said there are more opportunities in the United States than in other countries.

“If you work hard, you can do anything you want to do,” she said. “You could be the president if you want to. But you have to work hard, you have to believe in yourself, because if you don’t believe you’re going to do it, you’re never going to do it.”

The women discussed setbacks and how to overcome them, and shared stories about being promoted above previous co-workers and bosses in Smith’s case, or earning an ‘A’ in a class of all men in Edwards’ case.

“Everyday you will have setbacks, and that’s OK,” Edwards said. “Because it builds character.”

Eaten then suggested peers to help with accountability.

“The person you find in your life that will help you hold yourself accountable will help you get through it,” she said.

At the end, Eaton asked the students if there was something they could see themselves doing everyday.

“That’s the beginning of a passion,” she said.

Then she offered some encouragement for their career path and reminded the students that most of them speak two languages and some speak three.

“Do you know how valued that is?,” she said.