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WSA Conference: Inspiration and Work/Life Balance Key Themes

As people filtered into Burden on a cool Saturday morning, images of Sandra Day O’Conner, Amelia Earhart, Jackie Kennedy and other great leaders flashed on the hall’s main screen. Upbeat music played in the background, lending itself to the general feeling of excitement that pervaded the room. Quotes such as, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it,” and “you need as much discipline to focus on your personal life as your professional,” were displayed, setting the scene for the 11th Annual Dynamic Women in Business conference, organized by the WSA (Women’s Student Association).

This year’s sell-out conference brought together over 900 members of the HBS community and beyond. Organizers Jenna Fagnan (OF), Sarah Jacoby (OF), and Claudia Esquivel (OH) designed the conference to enable participants to think about, evaluate and decide on what it takes to become a dynamic businesswoman.

The conference kicked off in high spirits with an inspirational talk by keynote speaker Nancy Koehn, Professor of Business Administration at HBS. Prof. Koehn enlightened us to the fact that women have always been in business, they have just not always been seen in the spotlight. She illustrated her point by focusing on great role models, such as Madame Walker, the first African American billionaire in U.S. history, and a savvy sales strategist in the 1800’s. Koehn also talked about Coco Chanel, who reinvented the clothing industry, and Est‚e Lauder, who gave shape to the identity of being a woman. Engaging the audience with a personable manner of walking about the room, Koehn outlined a few of the chapters that paved the road for the Meg Whitmans and Oprah Winfreys of today, and reminded us that the future lay in our hands as the leaders of tomorrow.

Motivated by her speech, attendees spent the next few hours attending panels that ran the gamut from venture capital to social enterprise. Lunchtime brought a special treat, as students had the opportunity to network during “Meet the Speaker” lunches with top executives from several of the panels and sponsor companies. These high-ranking names included JoAnn Heffernan Heisen, CIO of Johnson & Johnson International, Anne M. Hogan, Executive VP and COO of Adroit Systems and Helen Murphy, Executive VP and CFO of Warner Music Group and AOL Time Warner.

Gail McGovern, President of Fidelity Personal Investments, was the afternoon’s keynote speaker. McGovern began by stressing the value of communication and flexibility in leadership, and then shifted the focus to the importance of balance in one’s career. Highlighting a key point, McGovern polled the audience to see who would be 15 minutes late for an appointment with the CEO of their company and who would be 15 minutes late for an appointment with their family. The audience in Burden raised their hands only for the latter. This worked effectively to remind attendees to treat appointments with family like appointments with CEOs, and to leave the office in the office.

The afternoon panels centered around lifestyle choices (in contrast to the industry topics earlier in the day). Panels such as work/life balance and power couples kept the issue of career vs. lifestyle at the forefront. In the evening, students gathered in the Spangler Williams Room to network with the several key company executives that had traveled specifically over for this event. Attendees were treated to a special performance by the She-E-Os, ending the conference literally on a high note.

Through the success of the 11th Annual Dynamic Women in Business Conference, the WSA left a powerful message-best outlined by one of the quotes that was displayed earlier in the day: “Never underestimate the power of a woman-especially if it compounds annually.”

February 4, 2002
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