Two years after graduation, Annitah Patrick ’99 missed the women in her life.
“My entire life, I’ve played competitive sports, so I’ve always had a team of girls,” Patrick said. “At Yale I was on the crew team for a year and was very close to those girls down the road.”
After college, Patrick said, that network of women disappeared. So last summer, Patrick decided to create a new kind of team for herself, not in the sweaty confines of a gym, but in the exuberant neon haze of New York night life.
She called the group “DinnerGrrls.”
The group, which began as a social bond among young professional women, has metamorphosed into a multilayered mentoring organization for undergraduate and newly graduated women alike.
“DinnerGrrls met my subconscious need for sisters, women who were interested in the same things, were ambitious, and were thinking about their careers and how they could improve it,” Patrick said.
This month, Patrick expanded the support system to include Yale undergraduates through a mentoring program she calls “Two Years Out.” The new program connects female undergraduates with recently graduated women.
Patrick said when she was at Yale, she rarely asked for help from anyone.
“I rarely went to any of my advisors,” Patrick said. “I know that when I was a Yale student, it was hard for me to accept the notion that I could be mentored.”
Patrick said the DinnerGrrls mentoring program for undergraduates is not so much about asking for help as being able to bounce ideas off another person who has been through it all before.
Christine Chung ’03 was one of half-a-dozen Yale students to accept the DinnerGrrls offer to connect her with a mentor. “I’m realizing that I only have 3 semesters left, and guidance from people who have already gone through it would be helpful,” Chung said.
Patrick added the first quasi-mentoring layer to DinnerGrrls in August, when she began to feel that something was missing in a group limited to women of one age and experience.
“My mom was a stay-at-home mom and had no idea about careers or anything,” Patrick said. “There’s only so many things I can turn to my dad about. He’s never dealt with the question, ‘If I don’t get into business school this year, when am I going to have babies and make a million bucks?'”
So Patrick began inviting DinnerGuests — women who had “been out [of college] five to 10 years or who had advanced degrees who could offer insight about their career development in general” — to serve as a mentors for an evening.
“They’ve been really honest about how if you want to be a partner at a firm, you can’t have kids. Having it all is really a mess,” Patrick said. “Having them say this is, on the one hand, unsettling, but on the other hand reassuring because if you don’t have it, you’re not a failure.”
Michelle Peluso, the chief executive officer of an online travel company called State 59.com, spoke as a DinnerGuest in the fall. She said the intimate setting allowed the group to dig into the challenges they faced as women balancing work with life.
“They’re asking not just how do I get to the top of my career, but how do I as a woman also still contribute to the community, still have strong family and friend relationships,” Peluso said. “While it’s not only a female challenge, it’s certainly something females have been thinking about for a long time.”
Stella Daily, a 2000 Princeton graduate, is one of 50 DinnerGrrls and Chung’s new mentor.
Daily said one of the best pieces of advice she’s gotten from the DinnerGuests who have served as mentors to her is that “being ballsy pays off.”
“I think women tend to accept defeat more easily than guys do,” Daily said.
Daily said she was inspired by one of the DinnerGuests who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“She was talking about was how she broke into her field,” Daily said. “She basically went to McKinsey and demanded an interview. She’s a consultant at McKinsey, so obviously it worked.”
Patrick said she hopes DinnerGrrls can continue to provide this kind of steely inspiration for all the women involved.
“[My mom] abandoned her idea of becoming a doctor when she was 12,” Patrick said. “Who knows what could have been if my mom had had a group that she could turn to.”