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Speeches & Media

Building Business Leaders

New Programs Take Aim at Glass Ceilings

Kathleen McCartney, Smith Alumnae Quarterly, Spring 2015

Smith educates women for leadership. This is one of our distinctive attributes—and a main draw for the record numbers of young women applying to Smith these days. Look across any field, from the arts to education, medicine and science and technology, and you’ll see Smith women forging paths and changing the landscape.

Business, finance and consulting are on that list, too, but our institutional focus and fanfare have been quieter in those areas. I want to change that.

Despite the focus on gender equity in business, women hold just 17 percent of board seats, 15 percent of senior executive positions, and 5 percent of CEO spots at Fortune 500 companies. A recent Bloomberg study found that women in business, especially finance, remain underpaid compared with male colleagues in equivalent roles.
In typical Smith fashion, individual alumnae have broken barriers in corporate fields. Marilyn Carlson Nelson ’61 is the former chair and CEO of Carlson, the global hotel and hospitality company. Anita Volz Wien ’62 is founder and chair of the Observatory Group, an economic advisory firm providing financial analysis of global markets. Shelly Lazarus ’68 was the longtime CEO of advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather; she is now chairman emeritus. Phebe Novakovic ’79 is chairman and CEO of General Dynamics. Stephanie Neely ’85 is the incoming vice president for treasury at Allstate Corporation. Durreen Shahnaz ’89 is the founder of Impact Investment Exchange, Asia’s first socially responsible stock exchange.

Building on these individual successes, learning from these women’s experiences, Smith is in a position to be intentional—and proud—in its efforts to create more business leaders and entrepreneurs. Three new programs are helping us do that:

Career Tracks: Finance, Consulting, Business

The power of workplace exposure can’t be underestimated. That’s the animating idea behind the Lazarus Center for Career Development’s series of daylong immersions for students at firms like Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and Guggenheim Partners. The sessions, often hosted by an alumna, feature a keynote address, presentations from several divisions in the company, and networking sessions where students have a chance to get an insider’s perspective on the recruiting process and direct feedback on their resumes. Early returns are very positive; participating students report feeling better prepared and more confident when competing for jobs and internships in these sectors.

Smith–Tuck Partnership

The liberal arts provide excellent preparation for leadership and for business but additional exposure to applied skills can only help. To give our students and other college women this added edge, Smith is partnering with Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business to offer Smith–Tuck Business Bridge, a three-week program of courses in decision making, accounting, managerial economics, marketing, accounting and corporate finance. Like our highly successful executive education program, Smith–Tuck is premised on the fact that leadership learning in an all-women environment is a powerfully disruptive experience. The inaugural program will take place at Smith May 25–June 12. I am grateful to the alumnae who have stepped forward with scholarship support so that Smith students from all economic backgrounds can take advantage of this remarkable opportunity.

Network for Smithies in Business

Smith alumnae are influential individually and unstoppable together. Harnessing the collective power of Smith business alumnae toward career advancement and C-suite success is the idea behind the formation of a new alumnae business network. Its aim is to mentor the next generation of Smith women, help rising stars break glass ceilings and advance Smith’s reputation as a go-to college for young women interested in business and entrepreneurship. You will hear more about this in the coming months.

In business, as in every nontraditional field they have entered, Smith women bring a commitment to a broader societal agenda. President Emerita Jill Ker Conway, described recently by the Financial Times as “one of America’s most senior corporate figures,” used her seat on Nike’s board of directors to advocate for women in sports and to press for corporate social responsibility. Marilyn Carlson Nelson is an outspoken advocate in the fight against human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children in the tourism industry. Durreen Shahnaz, the first Bangladeshi woman to work on Wall Street, describes the business she founded as “a stock exchange for social justice.” Doing well can be a powerful way to do good—for women, for society and for Smith.