Women leaders inspire, draw crowds

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On Saturday morning, 200 Yale students filled the Yale Law School Auditorium for the first annual Women in Leadership Conference.

Dressed in patent leather heels and freshly ironed suits, the largely female crowd spent the day attending over 20 workshops and panels targeted at future woman leaders in fields such as law, medicine, science and finance. The conference, sponsored by the Women’s Leadership Initiative, drew several high-profile speakers, including journalist Arianna Huffington, Minn. Sen. Amy Klobuchar ’82 and international studies professor Paul Kennedy.

The conference began with a video presentation from Klobuchar, who provided encouragement and humorous anecdotes from her career as a wife, mother and U.S. senator.

Klobuchar described herself as being part of a “sandwich generation,” in which many women take care of their children and their aging parents simultaneously, while also maintaining a full-time job. Her husband, by contrast, acts more like the motherly figure of the household, bringing gifts to baby showers and making dinner for their 12-year-old daughter.

Even her daughter has picked up on Klobuchar’s work ethic, she said. She once overheard her daughter say to a friend that in order to marry and have children, she will first have to win a seat in the Senate, Klobuchar said.

Keynote speaker Huffington took the stage next, speaking to a packed audience of Yale undergraduates, graduates, faculty and alumni.

Huffington emphasized the importance of taking a decisive stand on issues that matter without compromising one’s integrity.

“The leadership needed at the moment is leaders that take a stand, whether in politics, media or business,” Huffington said.

Women in particular place far too much emphasis on trying to get along with others at the expense of standing up for principles they believe in, Huffington said.

“Shed your underlying desires to be approved of, and to take a stand on an issue which you view as the truth,” Huffington said. “There’s no sense in trying to argue both sides of the argument if it is clear that the world is not flat at all.”

Even the most assertive women face moments of self-doubt, which they must set aside because leaders are characterized by their level of fearlessness, she said. Huffington defined fearlessness not as the absence of fear but as the act of overcoming one’s fear through passion and determination.

Female leaders can and should be just as strong, if not more so, than male leaders, Huffington said.

“Stop looking for the iron-clad knight, and instead look in the mirror and follow your own leadership potential driven by one’s passion rather than by fear,” she said.

Small-group workshops throughout the day focused on topics such as women’s rights, the under-representation of women in U.S. politics and women in specific careers, such as medicine and science.

Conference Chair Catherine Cheney ’10 said WLI members had been planning the event since last spring. Although students were required to apply to take part in the conference, everyone who applied secured a spot, Cheney said.

Cheney is a staff reporter for the News.

Sponsors of the event included Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch, the Yale University Institution for Social and Policy Studies, Goldman Sachs, Johnson and Johnson, and the Lehman Brothers, according to the WLI Web site. The Poynter Fellowship provided funding for Huffington’s travel expenses, Cheney said.

Audience responses to both Huffington’s speech and the daylong conference were generally positive.

Hayley Born ’10 said her favorite part of the day was Huffington’s address. Huffington is an inspiring example of how women can juggle multiple commitments and have successful careers, Born said.

Conference attendee Natasha Sarin ’11 said the event exceeded her expectations.

“I wasn’t sure how worthwhile of an experience it would be, but I’m glad I chose to attend,” Sarin said. “What I loved most about the conference is that many if not all of the panelists were Yale alumni themselves. That made their advice really worthwhile.”

WLI member Abigail Cheung ’11 said she enjoyed the event but thought its format could be improved.

“It could have been shorter, and I would recommend trying to establish more connection with alumni rather than just Q and A,” she said.

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