YaleWomen conference unites alumnae

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor LAW ’79 told a ballroom packed with around 425 women about her grueling work ethic, the importance of not being limited by personal circumstance and even her occasional feelings of inadequacy despite her successes.

Attendees of the YaleWomen Conference titled “Vision, Values, Voice: Women Changing a Changing World” spent Friday and Saturday attending panels made up of Yale alumnae, faculty and World Fellows, designed to bring female Yale graduates together. After convening in Washington, D.C., on Friday night, the attendees woke up on Saturday morning for a conversation between keynote speaker Sotomayor and Margaret Warner ’71, a senior correspondent for the “PBS NewsHour.”

“It really resonated with the women in the audience, which is fascinating,” said panelist Joanne Lipman ’83, a journalist. “You’re in a room of hundreds of incredibly accomplished women, and they’re all nodding along with the Supreme Court justice about these feelings of insecurity she had.”

Attendees and panelists interviewed said this sense of shared experience, along with a shared motivation to act on women’s issues, continued during a series of panels for the rest of the afternoon.

Arianna Huffington, president and editor in chief of The Huffington Post, spoke during the Saturday lunch about defining success not only by money and power but also by a third metric based upon well-being, she told the News in a Sunday email.

This measure of success includes the ability to “unplug” and find joy in life, she added, and it is up to women to lead the charge to adopt this mindset in the workplace. Her speech followed a talk by President-elect Peter Salovey — one of a handful of men at the conference — who called Huffington’s thoughts “brilliantly funny and quite compelling” in a Sunday email.

“Beyond bringing women together to reconnect with each other, we wanted to shine a bright light on what women, especially Yale women, are doing to change the world,” said Amy Bevilacqua SOM ’97, secretary and rising vice chair of YaleWomen who helped organize the event. “Our hope was that we would encourage women to ignite a light in their own communities, whatever that means for any individual.”

The conference gained national attention in early February when a few Yale alumnae said they disapproved of the conference’s PepsiCo sponsorship in a Feb. 6 New York Times article. But Bevilacqua called PepsiCo a “terrific partner” for providing substantial monetary support but not becoming involved in the programming whatsoever. She declined to comment on how much money the company donated.

PepsiCo Chief Executive Officer Indra Nooyi SOM ’80 serves as a fellow of the Yale Corporation and did not attend the conference this weekend.

Since the stir in early February, the YaleWomen organization has not received further criticism, Bevilacqua added.

Kathy Edersheim ’87, who serves on the YaleWomen board, moderated a panel about building a civil society. She said that running the conference out of Yale in particular cultivated a sense of strength among the women for having the University behind their discussions and future efforts.

“People left energized, happy and asking what’s next in terms of how to volunteer,” said Eve Rice ’73, the president of the University Council and a member of YaleWomen.

YaleWomen, founded in 2010, co-hosted the event with the Yale World Fellows and the Association of Yale Alumni.

Correction: April 23 

A previous version of this article misidentified Katherine Edersheim ’87 as a member of the University Council, when in fact she serves on the YaleWomen board. 

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