SOM women’s summit lures top executives

NEW YORK — A man might have felt intimidated at the Yale School of Management’s Women’s Summit, which featured over 300 successful women.

At the SOM’s second Women’s Summit at the Yale Club of New York City on Nov. 14, eight panelists discussed their personal struggles and successes as well as issues women face when forging a career in the business world. After opening remarks from the panelists, SOM Dean Jeffrey Garten moderated the discussion between the featured guests and the audience.

SOM Director of Admissions James Stevens said the Women’s Summit was part of an on-going effort to attract more women to the school, despite its recent recruiting successes.

Breaking the mold of the ambitious woman who blazes a trail straight up the corporate ladder, most of the female panelists had switched or left their jobs, pursuing interests abroad or working for non-profit organizations.

“The fun of life is the travels that take you in different directions,” said Heidi Miller, chief financial officer and executive vice president of the Bank One Corporation. “Worry about what to do with today and tomorrow.” Miller’s statement manifested the underlying theme of the women’s message — “follow your passion” rather than pursue success for its own sake and be open to the “serendipity” of life.

Non-profit businesswoman Linda Mason’s passion took her to the Sudan, where she served as co-director of Save the Children’s emergency program. It was difficult to negotiate as a woman in a conservative Muslim environment, but she learned to cultivate relationships by showing respect to corrupt warlords, she said.

The same love for children that took her to the Sudan also took her to Cambodia, where she directed a feeding program for children in refugee camps. Now, Mason is chairman of Bright Horizons Family Solutions — the nation’s largest provider of early education at the work place — which she also co-founded.

Mason said she learned she did not enjoy working under people after her first professional evaluation.

“I was feeling like a dynamite junior associate,” she said.

But when she received her evaluation, Mason said she was dismayed to read her supervisor’s assessment: “[Mason] chafes under direction.”

Like Mason, many of the other panelists have followed their intuition, refusing to hew to common models of corporate success. Many of the panelists fused a love of the arts or philanthropy with their current work.

Enthusiasm for the media and its ability to inform people found Laura Walker at WNYC Radio, where she weathered the station through a tempestuous period of uncertainty when the City of New York privatized the enterprise. She helped raise $20 million to purchase the station from the city.

Despite her successes, Walker said she has tried to make motherhood and work mesh.

“I very much define myself as a mother,” she said. “I try to balance things in a way that work for the family.”

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