WSA Conference

The Dynamic Women in Business Conference organized by the WSA (Women’s Student Association) was even more dynamic than anticipated! Completely sold out for the first time in history, the conference had over 900 people flooding the halls of Spangler on January 20th, 2001, with 300 more hopefuls on the waiting list! Students, faculty, Cambridge residents and young entrepreneurs wanted to make the most of the opportunity to network with top female executives across a wide range of industries. The new millennium marked the 10th Anniversary Celebration for the WSA, along with some new initiatives, as the conference was the first to take advantage of HBS’s Spangler Center, completed just in time for the New Year.

This year, the WSA celebrated a time-honored theme: the past, the present and the future of women in business, highlighting the past accomplishments of women, the experiences and issues facing women today, and women’s dreams for tomorrow. This was brilliantly captured in a video presented at the start of the conference that reflected on how women have revolutionized the business landscape. We watched in awe as women who are in leading business positions today spoke about how, when they were younger, the most they could aspire to be was to be a housewife or a nurse or a secretary. Now, women are the breadwinners, the doctors and the CEOs. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve come in such a short period of time.
The conference kicked off with Keynote Speaker and Fortune Magazine’s second most powerful woman in business Deborah Hopkins, CFO of Lucent Technology. Delivered over satellite since Debbie Hopkins was unable to fly in at the last minute, the hi-tech speech seemed to epitomize the dawning of a new age. Attendees were pleasantly surprised upon discovering that Debbie Hopkins could answer their questions via satellite as well. Several people in the audience took advantage of the opportunity to seek her viewpoint after an inspiring speech that emphasized the importance of mentors and making trade-offs as you continue to run that long marathon that is your career and life path.

Following Deborah Hopkins’ speech, the morning was spent attending various panels divided by industry. The panel rooms were overflowing with people as extra attendees sat on the steps and gathered in the back of the room. The resumes of the panelists were no less impressive than those of the Keynote Speakers themselves. Sandy Moore, Senior VP at Boston Consulting Group, Betty Cohen, the President of Cartoon Network, Kathleen Ligocki, the President and CEO of Ford Mexico, Laurie McCartney, Founder/President/CEO of eStyle and Janet Hancon, the Founder and President/CEO of Milestone Capital Management are just a handful of examples of the exceptional women that were present at the WSA conference this year. Not only did attendees have a chance to digest their advice during the panel sessions, but they also had the opportunity to network closely with several of the panel speakers during the Meet the Speaker lunch. Over the lunch break, attendees who signed up gathered in small groups of 7 to 10 for an informal lunch with the speaker of their choice. Industries ranged from finance and consulting to marketing and entertainment, from hi-tech and entrepreneurship to healthcare and retail.

The CEO of Exodus Communications and number five on Fortune’s list of the most powerful women in business, Ellen Hancock, set the tone for the afternoon with her vibrant, high energy speech. She spoke vivaciously about being a woman in a man’s world and changing that, she joked lightly about her own somewhat rocky path to the top, and she reflected candidly on balancing her career and personal life and her own lessons from experience. Ellen Hancock’s presence, candor and carefree attitude were so motivating that the speech ended with a standing ovation! We couldn’t help it. After all, the lady who has been recommended for the new President George W. Bush’s technology committee chose to attend the WSA conference over Dubya’s inauguration!

Another set of panels filled up the remainder of the afternoon. In contrast to the industry panels earlier in the day, these panels focused the general lifestyle of a woman in business. How to remain on the fast track, utilizing formal networks, balancing work and life and relationships and innovative work structures were the topics of concern for that afternoon. In the evening, attendees gathered back in Burden for another first – the WSA Alumnae Awards. The awards commemorated the past accomplishments of trailblazers while providing incentive for women to blaze new paths for the future. In the present, we applauded their success, celebrated them as role models, and listened to their thoughts on success in business and life outstanding achievements. This group of distinguished award recipients includes: Nancy Barry, the President of Women’s World Banking and recipient of the Professional Services Award, Rena Clark, Chair and CEO of QVS Inc. and recipient of the Leadership Award, Judith R. Haberkorn, Former President of Consumer Sales and Service at Verizon and recipient of the Industry Award, Jeanne B. Lewis, President of and recipient of the Entrepreneurship Award, and Andrea Caren Silbert, CEO and Founder of the Center for Women & Enterprise and the recipient of the Social Enterprise Award.

The productive and rewarding day ended with a cocktail function at the Spangler Center. The She-E-O’s harmonized while attendees walked around with goody bags, excitedly sharing their experiences and insights with one another, and speakers mingled in the crowd. There was an air of exhilaration as the conference drew to a close. People were enthused by the stirring speeches of the Keynote Speakers, encouraged by the advice and guidance of panelists, thrilled by the opportunity to network with such an extraordinary group of top female executives and inspired to make their own mark on the dynamic business landscape – to blaze their own trail and pave the path for future generations beyond them.
As Ellen Hancock put it, “These are exciting times – and the challenges ahead exceed the successes that are behind us… Those who want to change the world are the ones who do.”