New WSA Leadership
W51 > W50. This was the slogan of Amanda Burlison and Alexandra Daum’s campaign for the leadership of the WSA. Now at the helm of the largest student organization on campus, Amanda and Alexandra are determined to live up to this mantra. Their platform rests on three core pillars: raise the level of constructive dialogue around gender equality, build meaningful connections among women on campus, and expand the network of stakeholders committed to fostering an inclusive environment for all genders.
Amanda and Alexandra’s commitment to advancing gender equality in the workplace and at home is deeply personal. Both have been influenced by powerful female role models who made them believe that they could have meaningful careers: their moms. Amanda’s mother is a professor and business owner; Alexandra’s mother is a Partner at an executive search firm – and both have achieved professional success while remaining actively involved in their daughters’ lives. “Watching my mom do it all at once, it was natural that this was what I would aim for,” Alexandra explained. “I saw how much self-esteem and self-worth came from having a satisfying career.”
As Amanda and Alexandra moved into college and then professional life (Human Capital consulting at Deloitte for Amanda, retail and politics for Alexandra), they recognized that many of their peers viewed these goals as unattainable. In addition to facing institutional barriers, many women lacked the confidence to proactively pursue demanding careers – particularly given fragmented support networks and a paucity of real-world role models. Part of the Co-Presidents’ ambition is to provide women with a set of practical tactics to help them strike a balance between their personal and professional lives – from establishing support networks and selecting the right industry, to choosing the right partner (Amanda says her husband is “100% supportive” of her career ambitions).
Gender on Campus
Amanda and Alexandra have already started bringing the debate about female leadership to campus. Over the next few weeks, more than 400 students will take part in ‘HBS Leans In’, forming discussion groups of 10-12 to explore the issues raised in Sheryl Sandberg’s book. Amanda weighs in on the diverging opinions around Sandberg’s thesis: “It’s difficult to offer practical advice which helps women succeed in the current environment, while at the same time pushing for the environment to change.” She applauds Sandberg for exposing the persistent gender gap in leadership positions, and for offering practical suggestions for individuals and organizations to work within the current environment. Ultimately, Amanda agrees that having more women in leadership roles – “crusaders at the top” – will be instrumental in bringing about institutional change.
Another recent theme in the gender debate – the notion that women can’t have it all – resonates with Alexandra. “You will have to accept that there will be a period of time when you won’t be as amazing as you want to be in each area of your life. You might be 90% of the mother that you wish you could be, and 90% of the leader that you wish you could be, and you may not be able to socialize as much as you’d like or spend hours at the gym – but your kids will grow up and you will be able to reinvest in those areas of your life.” Alexandra describes how her mother was able to dedicate more time to her profession once her three daughters had moved out of home, because she had invested time and effort in establishing a meaningful career. “How you choose to allocate the points that you’ve been allotted in life is a very personal decision. But I want to change the perception that it’s not possible to have a balanced family life and a successful career.”
A notable aspect of ‘HBS Leans In’ is the high level of male involvement, which is a key component of the Co-Presidents’ goals. For the first time, the WSA has assigned a board member, Tara Hagan, to the task of involving men in the discussion, and they will soon launch a ‘Manbassadors’ program for men who are proud to support the cause. The WSA will also continue to work with faculty to lift the conversation in the classroom, building on the strength of the LEAD curriculum to create further opportunities for constructive discussion and reflection.
As Amanda and Alexandra begin to implement their plans for the coming year, they are aware of the responsibility that HBS and the WSA have in continuing to enable and empower female leaders. “The mission of HBS is not to educate leaders to continue the status quo in the world. If we want to make a difference, then we need to be talking about these issues.”
To find out more about the WSA’s plans for 2013-14, or to get involved, email Alexandra [email@example.com] or Amanda [firstname.lastname@example.org].