Women’s conference champions work-life balance

Anne-Marie Slaughter, former head of policy for the State Department, spoke on Saturday about how women can become more successful leaders.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, former head of policy for the State Department, spoke on Saturday about how women can become more successful leaders. Photo by Hannah Schwarz.

Last Saturday, speakers at the Women in Leadership Conference encouraged women to achieve success in their careers so that work environments become more conducive to raising families.

Roughly 300 Yale students came to the Sterling Law Auditorium to attend the conference, an annual event hosted by Yale’s Women’s Leadership Initiative. The conference included three keynote speakers — Anne-Marie Slaughter, former head of policy for the State Department; Marie Wilson, founder of the White House Project; and Jennifer Holleran, executive director of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s nonprofit Startup: Education — and 12 profession-specific panels on government, finance, law, marketing, STEM and media. Slaughter’s address focused on ways in which women can use their strengths to become effective leaders.

“Women are really good at bringing many disparate things together and multitasking,” she said. “We are great connectors, and [we’re] very good at standing up for [our] values.”

Women are more likely to advocate for intervention in Libya, and they primarily work on societal and humanitarian issues within the State Department, she said, adding that the causes dominated by women are those that will ultimately solve international conflict.

Slaughter also discussed her well-known article called “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” that ran in the July/August issue of the Atlantic Monthly and said she hoped to spark conversation about the next wave of feminism, which she thinks should focus on maintaining both a demanding career as well as a family. In her speech, she also advocated for employers offering paid family leave as an essential change for the United States and said because the next generation of women will live longer, they should take the time to enjoy having a family, while also aiming for a successful career.

Slaughter said that before making the decision to leave the State Department to spend more time with her family, she “could not have predicted that [she] would say no to a chance to go to a higher position [within the State Department].” She added that the hardest aspect of leaving was acknowledging to herself that she “wanted to be home.”

To become strong leaders, Holleran said, women must be clear about their home and work priorities while finding ways to connect informally on a regular basis with other smart women. She added that she does not allow herself to be away from her home and three-year-old twins for more than a “certain” number of days at a time.

Wilson said women who pursue creative and ambitious ideas will often find their ideas shot down.

“If you’re a hopeful person, you’re going to attract discouragement,” she said. “If you’re doing amazing things, you’re going to attract despair.”

Nancy Yao Maasbach, executive director of the Yale-China Association, spoke in the “Women in the World” panel and said past generations of women did not have as many international career opportunities.

Cheryl Doss, another panelist and senior lecturer in economics and global affairs, said she often sees students struggling with “how to be successful and have a life.”

“Who you marry matters,” she added.

Lucia Huang ’14, president of the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Yale, said she overheard “great” conversations between attendees and panelists after the events.

Last weekend’s conference marks the fifth annual Women in Leadership Conference that Yale’s Women’s Leadership Initiative has hosted.

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