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Smith Means Business

By Ann E. Shanahan '59

In July 2004, a Wall Street brokerage firm settled a sex discrimination suit alleging a pattern that routinely denied promotions to scores of women and gave high salaries to less productive men. News accounts following the settlement indicated that women fill only 20 percent of executive management positions in the securities industry, make up only 30 percent of investment bankers, traders and brokers and hold only 8 percent of top-level jobs (those at the level of executive vice president and above) in major corporations.

Twenty-five years ago, when Smith College established its executive education program (SEE) for high-potential, fast-track women, it was even more difficult for women to gain a foothold in corporate executive management. Since the program's earliest incarnation -- as the Smith Management Program (SMP) -- executive education at Smith has evolved and prospered. It now claims more than a thousand alumnae. The program benefits not only the women who have attended SMP and its successors -- the Smith College Consortium, the Smith-Tuck Program and various custom programs provided on-site for individual corporations -- but serves Smith's undergraduates and alumnae as well.

Sidebar: Students Get Down to Business

Sidebar: Shaping a Plan for Women in Business

"In the broadest sense," says Barbara Reinhold, the program's director, "executive education establishes another level of visibility for Smith; it reinforces and extends Smith's commitment to develop women leaders." This plays out in a variety of ways, Reinhold explains. For example, "Mothers leave the program wanting to send their daughters here." And SEE alumnae (along with Smith College alumnae, of course) provide internship opportunities and insights about employment opportunities for the significant population of the college's undergraduates who are interested in business careers.

In today's uncertain economic climate, the willingness of alumnae to offer advice about workplace trends "is invaluable for our ability to advise seniors who are going into the job market," says Reinhold, who, until recently, had been director of both Smith's Career Development Office and SEE. Providing students access to Smith College and SEE alumnae who are high up in the business world -- to serve as mentors and as sources of jobs and internships -- and encouraging networking opportunities among the alumnae themselves are critical and valued components of Smith's "lifetime guarantee."

The links between the college's executive education program and Smith students are just the tip of the iceberg, however, when it comes to undergraduate exposure to business careers and practices. A number of students get their first taste of the business world through Praxis, the innovative program offering every student a stipend that allows her to take an otherwise unpaid summer internship. Although many Smith students are able to secure paid internships at large corporations and financial services firms, small businesses and interesting start-ups are less likely to offer internship stipends.

One of the major concerns addressed during a consortium forum this summer was the need for a commitment from senior women managers to help increase the number of women in corporate leadership.

Another source of information about business is Smith's Women and Financial Independence program (WFI). Its widely publicized lectures, noncredit courses, investment club and other activities attract large audiences. WFI was established three years ago with $2.5 million "seed money" jointly provided by Goldman Sachs and Ann Kaplan '67, one of the first women to be named a partner at that firm.
With sleek contemporary furnishings, a television monitor continuously running the MSNBC stock ticker, and copies of Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company and other business publications scattered around, the WFI office looks and feels very different from the conventional Smith program or department office. And the WFI "curriculum," aimed at helping young women to take hold of their own financial futures by understanding the central role of economics in their lives, is different as well.

WFI offers what Reinhold calls "a fully dimensioned" array of programming, covering such topics as entrepreneurship, tax planning, debt management and investing. Kaplan, a member of the Committee of 200 (C200), an organization made up of some of the most highly placed corporate women in the country, was instrumental in bringing one such event to campus last spring. The two-day program introduced Smith undergraduates to many of the same topics that Smith's executive education program covers in greater depth for its more experienced audience. The sessions were packed and are expected to serve as prototypes for similar C200 events on other campuses.

Like its undergraduate programs that encourage and support Smith student interest in business careers, Smith executive education comes in various forms: the Smith College Consortium runs for two weeks in the summer; Smith-Tuck Global Leaders Program (presently held at Dartmouth) and the new program for women in science, technology and engineering that will debut in June 2005 and run five days; and custom programming that SEE provides at corporate sites can be two- to five-day events. SEE instructors include prominent faculty members from leading business schools, Smith professors and internationally known organizational consultants. All of the programs address such similar issues as global marketing and strategic planning, business relationship management, intercultural competence, conflict resolution and negotiation, management of workplace change and leadership of high-performance teams.

Only a quarter of all enrollees in executive education programs today are women, Reinhold says, and almost all attend coed programs. Virtually all of the women who participate in SEE will testify to the value of a "women-only" program. "Coed programs are really male programs that let women attend," asserts Reinhold. "Women experience these programs as outsiders despite the fact that all the literature says that you have to feel accepted in order to learn well." Moreover, "women have qualities that are best suited to the ambiguities of today's global workplace but their style of learning [more interactive and experiential, for example] is seldom taken into account in designing coed programs." However, other executive education programs are finally catching on to the value of women-only offerings. Many business schools are now putting together women's programs and asking Smith to partner with them, Reinhold reports. The Smith-Tuck Program at Dartmouth, now planning for its third year, is a case in point.

Issues related to women's concerns in the workplace were even more evident in last summer's consortium forum where women managers from the participating companies -- JPMorgan Chase, Chubb and Sons, Accenture Consulting, Johnson & Johnson, Eastman Kodak and MetLife -- talked about their lives and work. Although the topics varied considerably, including networking and the differences between power and influence, both managers and program participants kept returning to concerns of particular importance to women. Chief among these were what they called "work-life choices" -- how to balance family and other personal commitments with a demanding work schedule.

Smith President Carol Christ had addressed the same issue last summer in a talk at the Chautauqua Institution in New York: "We need to help our students and young people, particularly young women, imagine new narratives for themselves that do not undermine ambition with a false sense of choice. We need to talk about balance and the need for balance. Women often repeat the joke about Ginger Rogers: that she did everything that Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels. It's time to walk forward in flat shoes, in the same direction as our partner, arguing for policies that allow us all more capacious and humane lives."

Another major concern addressed by the SEE consortium forum discussion was the need for a commitment from senior women managers to help increase the number of women in corporate leadership. Panelist Isabel Sloane '73 stated it simply: "Climb and lift." Sloane, human resources executive for asset and wealth management at JPMorgan Chase, joined JPMorgan as a trader immediately following her graduation from Smith and has been with the company ever since in increasingly senior positions. Other panel members had Smith ties as well: Pamela Craig, senior vice president for finance at Accenture, class of 1979, and Gail Soja, consortium class of 2000. Soja, worldwide field operations manager for Chubb Commercial Insurance, noted, "My experience here at the consortium took my thinking from here to here," as she spread her hands wide to illustrate the broad scope of what she had learned.

Barbara Reinhold's experience at Smith has been wide -- and instructive -- as well. She recalls that nearly 20 years ago when she came to campus, students "lined up around the block to get on the interview schedules of corporate recruiters…Wall Street and consulting firms…the students were willing to make whatever sacrifices would be necessary in their personal lives." Today, Reinhold says, "They ask more questions about work-life choices. They see that there are lots of ways to have a career...start-ups, entrepreneurial projects, nonprofits....They're not going into business per se but into businesses -- diffuse and diverse."

With the prominence of Smith alumnae in the business world, the college's burgeoning executive education program and the variety of programs that prepare students for careers and financial decisions, Smith and Smith women appear to be uniquely placed right now to contribute both to the work-life conversation and the "climb and lift" effort that is so important for the long run.

 
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