Amelia Davidson

Audience members stiffened in their chairs when Linda Mason SOM ’80 recounted the sexism she faced at her consulting job in the 1980s, but moments later, they broke into applause after she proudly proclaimed, “That was the last time I worked for someone else.”

On Monday, Jane Mendillo SOM ’84 and Sandra Urie SOM ’85 joined Mason in a School of Management panel discussion titled, “The Pioneers: Celebrating Women Leaders of Yale SOM.” The event was part of this year’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of women attending Yale College and the 150th anniversary of women attending the University at the School of Art. Although the SOM itself is not celebrating a specific anniversary of coeducation, the school has been participating in University-wide events by hosting a variety of programming focused on women in business.

“It is important to celebrate all of our successful alumni, but because paths to leadership for women in the workplace are newer, the successes of our female alumnae play the additional role of establishing some clear models of success,” Heather Tookes, a professor of finance at the SOM and the moderator of the panel discussion, told the News.

All three panelists have enjoyed highly successful careers. Mason founded and currently chairs Bright Horizons — the world’s largest provider of child care and early education in workplaces around the world. Mendillo managed Harvard’s endowment during the 2008 financial crisis, and despite the economic downturn, achieved positive endowment returns during her tenure. Urie is the chairman emeritus of Cambridge Associates, which is widely considered the most prominent institutional investment advisory firm in the world.

The panelists discussed their personal career paths, as well as the general progress women have made in the world of management. All three agreed that despite improvements in recent decades, the business world still has significant room for improvement with regard to gender equality.

“100 percent of talent comes from 100 percent of the population, not 50 percent,” Urie said. “I am a bit discouraged that we haven’t seen more progress in the upper ranks of businesses.”

All three panelists are mothers, and they discussed the impact that raising children had on their careers. Urie specifically praised the SOM for helping her manage being a single mother while attending business school. Mendillo recounted how her son coming out as gay shifted her perspective as a businesswoman, and she said that the moment made her reflect on how she could prioritize acceptance in the workplace.

All of the panelists emphasized the importance of being true to oneself. They addressed early pursuits of jobs that did not make them happy, and they emphasized that it is important to find a job that feels right.

Sharon Oster, who was the first female dean of the Yale SOM, introduced the panelists and led the Q&A session after the presentation. Two of the three panelists knew Oster when they were students, and they recalled taking her class and looking up to her as a mentor.

“[These panelists] have performed at the highest levels, creating value not only for themselves but for their communities,” Oster wrote in an email to the News. “I hope those who attend[ed] the panel will be inspired by their stories and come away with a bit of practical advice on how to navigate their own careers.”

The School of Management has admitted women since it opened in 1976.

Amelia Davidson | amelia.davidson@yale.edu