Powering Up: Smith Women in Business

Powering Up: Smith Women in Business

Powering Up: Smith Women in Business

March 24, 2012
Los Angeles, California

Good afternoon.

It is my great pleasure to be here for this exciting event, celebrating the leadership of Smith women in business. For me, events like this provide an extraordinary opportunity to bring us together around a common interest or timely topic, and we get to see first-hand the profound ways in which Smith women are leading lives of distinction. 

I am excited to be able to bring a bit of Smith to you, to share some of the things we are most proud of and let you know how we’re preparing the next generation of women leaders.

Smith received the highest number of applications in its history (4,320) for admission to the class of 2016, and we had the lowest admit rate—40 percent—since we began keeping records.

With a record 19 Fulbright Fellows for 2011–2012, Smith is the top-producing college of Fellows in the country. During the past seven years, Smith has led the nation overall among top-ranking colleges in the number of fellowships, also leading the nation among all higher education institutions, including Ivy League universities, in its success rate. With this year’s Fulbright Fellows, Smith has produced 210 Fulbrighters since 1970, 129 during the past 10 years. That Smith is setting Fulbright records speaks directly to its commitment to producing women leaders able to tackle global problems.

Smith’s groundbreaking Women and Financial Independence program is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. When this program was founded a decade ago, there wasn’t much talk on college campuses about educating young women about finances so they could make good financial decisions. But that has changed thanks to this program, and the young women graduating from Smith today are smarter and more confident about managing their personal finances.

We’re all still excited by the recent launch in Washington of the Women in Public Service Project, a unique alliance among Smith, the State Department, and four of our sister colleges (Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke and Wellesley) to increase women’s participation in leadership roles in government and the public sector. Being part of this groundbreaking project is a particularly proud moment for Smith. It was incredibly inspiring to share a stage with Hillary Clinton and Christine Lagarde, and to see so many Smith women—including Farah Pandith ’90, Jane Lakes Harman ’66, and Gloria Steinem ’56—speaking to the worldwide audience and declaring their support for this important initiative.

Earlier this month, we celebrated the naming of the Career Development Office, as the Lazarus Center for Career Development, in honor of Shelly Lazarus, class of 1968. Shelly, as I’m sure many of you know, is one of the world’s most successful and respected women in business. As CEO of advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, she has helped create some of our most enduring and iconic advertising campaigns and brands. In her remarks at the event, she credited Smith for providing her with the confidence, curiosity of mind, and can-do spirit that propelled her up through the ranks of a highly competitive and primarily male profession. The tribute to Shelly also included remarks from junior Alice Tan, a remarkable young woman who started a financial literacy organization in San Francisco and will be interning this summer at the Deutsche Bank on Wall Street.

Our Executive Education program continues to solidify its reputation as a pioneering program and resource for women leaders in business. The program just celebrated a 35-year milestone. It was in 1976 that Jill Ker Conway assembled a group of elite corporate leaders to create what eventually became known as Smith College Executive Education for Women. She saw Smith as the perfect place to provide training and unique learning opportunities to female corporate executives, who at that time had few opportunities for good professional development. Executive Education continues that tradition today of providing strategic leadership development to hundreds of high-potential women leaders from Fortune 500 companies. The program has grown from a single program to a portfolio of six core programs and several custom programs designed to meet the needs of women in various industries and at various stages of their careers. More than 2,500 women from Fortune 500 companies have come through our leadership programs in the past 10 years alone. The programs are taught by world-class faculty from top-tier business schools and consultancies. 

Smith is a full member of the International Consortium of University Executive Education. Though we are not a business school, we are recognized alongside all the top business schools, such as Harvard, Wharton, Tuck, and Stanford. Smith is also a member of Catalyst, a premier research organization expanding opportunities for women and business.

Smith is proud of developing women in business and helping companies retain and advance their female talent!

Our alumnae are receiving significant attention for their innovative business ventures. Take, for example, Sramana Mitra, class of 1993. Ever since the financial crisis, she has been helping fellow entrepreneurs be successful through online tools and education, and now she has an audacious goal of helping one million businesses each reach a million dollars in annual revenue by 2020. She calls her initiative One Million by One Million and believes it can lead to more jobs and a more stable global economy. Then there is Megan Gardner, class of 1998, whose Website, Plum District, has been described as “Groupon for moms.” The site has received more than $10 million in venture capital and employs a sales force of more than 100 moms. Last year, former investment banker Durreen Shahnaz, class of 1989, launched Impact Investment Exchange, Asia’s first socially responsible stock exchange. Among the businesses listed on the exchange are those that provide microloans to female entrepreneurs in rural areas. Sometimes, Durreen says, social and environmental returns are more important than financial ones. Just recently, Washingtonian magazine named Carol Thompson Cole, class of 1973, as one of Washington’s 100 Most Powerful Women. She is president and CEO of Venture Philanthropy, a Washington, DC-based philanthropic investment organization. She says Smith was a transformative time in her life. “I got to see that women really could do anything they wanted to do,” she said, “and I learned how supportive women can be for one another.”

I’m sure many of you are aware of a recent controversial letter that was published in The Sophian, Smith’s independent student newspaper. What moved me was the response that emanated from the campus and beyond. Within hours of the letter’s publication, a groundswell of support for Smith spread across the Internet and through various social media channels. Students, alumnae, parents, and even people with no specific relationship to Smith shared their personal reflections about the importance of Smith in their lives. Their stories were witty and smart and poignant, and I was reminded of the great love, respect and appreciation our students and alumnae have for Smith. Though the contents of the letter were unfortunate, the incident ultimately brought out the best in our community and highlighted the enduring power and influence of a Smith education.

I very much see Smith today as an institution that is using its considerable resources and greatest assets to prepare and advance women leaders to do, as Sophia Smith said, “the most good for the greatest number.” Collectively, Smith women are a force for change; they step easily into leadership positions, whether they be in business, government, education, or the arts, and put forth the best ideas for the betterment of society.

We are preparing our students to take on this very big role in ways both simple and significant. Through curricular innovations like our nine new academic concentrations that range from archives to book studies to social justice, through the creation of academic centers around issues like the environment and work and life, and by bolstering our already impressive study-away and internship programs, we are making a Smith education relevant for the 21st-century student, who comes to Smith today with the expectation that her education will be global in scope and expose her to different cultures and new ways of thinking.

The first step in meeting her expectations is providing access. Above all else, we must make it possible for ambitious young women to come to Smith, regardless of their financial circumstances. We cannot—and must not—lose these exceptional young women to other institutions. Smith, with its unwavering commitment to women’s education, is where they need to be, and ensuring that we have the resources to provide generous financial aid to any young woman who needs it is my highest priority.

There is room for you in our plans as well. My vision for Smith encompasses rich and lasting connections with alumnae. I want you to experience the intellectual excitement and rigor you knew as a student long after you leave campus; I want you to be able to turn to Smith for continued professional development and growth; and I want the network of Smith women that stretches from our beautiful campus to communities around the world to be the best evidence of the real value of the Smith experience.

You, as alumnae, are our voice in the world. Whenever you can, spread the good word about Smith, one on one and in the networks and organizations in which you participate. This is one of the most effective ways you can help Smith maintain its reputation as the leading liberal arts college for women in the world.

Your philanthropy is also crucial. Your gift, no matter its size, allows us to accomplish our ambitious goals and tells us that you support the Smith students of today and believe in their potential as the leaders of tomorrow.

Sarah Lee, a member of the class of 2014, summed up her Smith experience this way: “At Smith, I am reminded that I am a work in progress. The friends I make, the classes I take, the conversations I have always push me to reevaluate my beliefs and strive to become a better version of myself.”

The transformative power of a Smith education. I hope you leave here today convinced that it is worth your investment.

Thank you.