NEW YORK — It was an odd scene for a business function: 350 people and only a dozen of them men.
In an ambitious effort to recruit more women into the Yale School of Management and create a more equal ratio of women to men, the SOM Admissions Office launched its first annual “Women’s Summit” Wednesday. Held at the Yale Club of New York City, the event attracted prospective students, current students, professors and alumni.
The summit featured a panel of five female business leaders. With SOM Dean Jeffrey Garten acting as moderator, the panelists each gave short introductory speeches and then answered questions.
During the 90-minute summit, the panelists gave advice and personal accounts of their experiences as women in the traditionally male-dominated field of business.
Emphasizing the importance of fitting in with co-workers, Indra Nooyi SOM ’80 spoke of how she dealt with men in her rise from a middle-class Indian immigrant to the president of PepsiCo.
“They say, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do,'” Nooyi said. “So I played the game. I read books on basketball, baseball and football and watched the games on television. I didn’t always enjoy it, but I still did it. I was a walking encyclopedia of the New York Yankees.”
The panelists also discussed their motives for entering a male-dominated industry.
“I went to business school because I didn’t want to type,” said Shelly Lazarus, the chief executive officer of Ogilvy and Mather. “In the ’60s, there was nothing you could do that didn’t involve typing. So I thought, perhaps if you had an MBA they wouldn’t make you type.”
Sponsored by the SOM Business Office, the forum fulfilled its advertising duties as Nooyi and panelist Nancy Peretsman SOM ’79, executive vice president of Allen and Co., both spoke fondly about their days in the Elm City.
“Yale groomed me,” Nooyi said. “The SOM converted me from being a country bumpkin with a brain and nothing else and transformed me into a person who could be accepted into the business world.”
Peretsman said she came to the SOM in order to avoid attending law school, a decision she said made a significant difference in her life.
“It kept my energy going,” Peretsman said. “I think if I had gone to law school, I would’ve been burnt out.”
Garten said the summit fit in well with the SOM’s diversity goals.
“We should lead all the top business schools in trying to attract the best female candidates in the world,” he said.
SOM professor Sharon Ostar said the event is an important step in gaining more recognition for the SOM.
“It’s an effort to really go the extra mile in making ourselves more visible,” she said. “I think we all think of ourselves as a less visible gem than we ought to be. [The SOM] wants to shine a brighter light on that gem.”
Currently, the SOM’s percentage of female students, at 27 percent, is lower than the national average of 33 percent.
But Deputy Director of Admissions Rita Chepulis said that the event was a success and that she expects it to encourage a significantly higher number of female applicants in coming years.
The panelists included Lazarus, Nooyi, Peretsman, President of the American Museum of Natural History Ellen Futter, and Chief Financial Officer of Merck and Co. Judy Lewent.
In addition to the five panelists, there were also important networking incentives. An e-mail to all prospective applicants to the SOM invited them to come to the summit and allowed the first respondents to come. Women In Management, a SOM student group that worked with the admissions office to sponsor this event, gave these prospective applicants a contact in the SOM.
“I think that the one-on-one approach is better geared towards women,” Beth Farrely SOM ’02 said. “Women think through relationships more frequently, and if you can build a relationship around the application process I think women will be more inclined to apply to that school.”
Michelle Zellner, from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., said the summit was very helpful in figuring out her future plans.
“It got me really excited,” she said. “I work in a man’s world, so it definitely helped to come out here and have the opportunity to talk to these women.”
Melissa Hampe SOM ’02 said the school will continue its recruiting efforts well into the future.
“This is certainly a landmark in the process,” Hampe said. “But it’s really in a continuum of things we’ll be doing. We want to continue exposing prospective students to the kind of network that the SOM is about.”