Yale SOM Women in Management Club Convenes Discussion of Women in the Workplace
The message from the six women sitting in front of the room was clear: women face a unique set of challenges in the business world. Jeanette Gorgas, senior associate dean for the MBA program, talked about her own experiences in investment banking, where senior executives were often wary of mentoring junior-level female employees. "This makes it harder to make the kind of impression you need to advance," she said. "In my case, I had to work hard during the day to get noticed. I was fortunate to have an amazing network of women who worked really hard to get me exposure to the senior management team."
Joining Gorgas for the panel discussion on September 12 were Amy Wrzesniewski, associate professor of organizational behavior; Marian Chertow '81, associate professor of industrial environmental management at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies; Heather Tookes, associate professor of finance; Heidi Brooks, lecturer in organizational behavior; and Constance Bagley, professor in the practice of law and management. The talk was organized by the Yale SOM Women in Management club in order to further discussion of conditions for women in the workplace and at Yale SOM.
A major focus of the hour-long session was how women can rise in professions, such as finance, academia, and the law, that tend to be male-dominated. Bagley, who was a partner in a San Francisco law firm before moving into academia, said that it's not uncommon for women to be excluded from many of the activities that help bond junior-level executives to senior counterparts. The solution to this, she said, is to be really good at your job. "You have to be someone who when the partner sees you walking down the hall, sees someone who has a solution to his problems," she said. "But it's more than just doing good work. It's understanding the power relationships of a place and making sure you have the power on your side in an organization."
All of the speakers presented a similar bit of advice: Find out what you're good at and cultivate it. Brooks used a sports metaphor. "Learn your game," she said. "Take some risks - it's the only way you'll be able to figure out what your game really is. Take your best swing." Wrzesniewski put it in the context of the brief two years that MBA students spend at Yale. "Never forget how fast time goes by here," she said. "This is a safe place to ask questions and figure out what you really want. Whether it's in the classroom or outside, just go for it."
Gorgas seconded Wrzesniewski's sentiment, but with an important caveat. "You are in a wonderful, protective environment and supportive culture," she said. "But you'll soon be competing in a very competitive world that can be not-so-supportive. Don't lose sight of that." She added that now is a good time for students to work on their personal brands and build crucial relationships. "The relationships you create here will last forever," she said.