22nd Women In Leadership conference to focus on evolution of gender equality

WIL Conference leadership team
Members of the WIL conference team

Uprisings around #metoo, women’s marches, and inclusion and diversity in Hollywood and beyond defined 2017, sparking fierce conversations on feminism, gender equity, and social justice.

The March 17 Women In Leadership (WIL) conference will continue that conversation, taking participants through three different stages of leadership and careers under this year’s theme, “Evolve.”

The 22nd annual conference is expected to attract more than 400 students, alumni, and other professionals to campus. It’s the longest-running student-led conference at Haas, providing a platform for students and professionals to hear from women leaders, understand challenges, and find ways to advance the conversation.

Co-chairs Mackenzie Cooke, MBA 18, and Mary Harty, MBA 18, have worked with a team over the last year to plan the conference.

“This conference differs from past conferences for its focus on the phases of a woman’s journey to leadership, which we hope will make it relevant for undergrads through C-suite executives,” Cooke said. “We want attendees to be exposed to a variety of perspectives to both educate them on issues with which they may not be familiar and challenge previously held beliefs. We want attendees to think the content is relevant and diverse, and we want them to leave feeling like this was a worthwhile investment of their time and energy.”

Making progress

Larissa Roesch
Keynote speaker Larissa Roesch

Throughout the day, attendees will move through Develop, Progress, and Advance workshops and panels to discuss gender roles, challenges in the workplace, and how men and women can be supporters and allies throughout their journeys. A morning session, for example, discusses the societal and cultural influences on women and how messaging influences their definition of self.

One of the unique aspects of WIL is the “story salon,” a live storytelling format that Cooke says is an integral part of the Haas culture. A group of women will be sharing their personal stories in a salon session called “Visualizing Ourselves as Leaders.”

The day will feature more than a dozen speakers, varying from executives and storytellers to startup leaders and consultants. One of this year’s keynote speakers, Larissa Roesch, MBA 97, is a founding advisory board member of the Center for Gender, Equity & Leadership, the new center on campus that collaborated with Women in Leadership. Roesch is currently vice president and portfolio manager at San Francisco-based investment company Dodge & Cox.

In her keynote, Roesch will be addressing what to focus on in order to achieve equal pay, diverse leadership teams, and more women in business. Research and technology over the years have helped advance those conversations, she said.

Roesch is no stranger to the conference. While at Haas, she helped plan the second WIL conference and was the first woman to serve as president of the MBAA. She joined Dodge & Cox 20 years ago, after graduating from Haas.

The WIL conference in its early years was a pretty novel idea, she said.

“The concept of women in leadership was less developed, although obviously it’s been a long trajectory,” she said. “One thing that I know has changed now is there are men in the Women In Leadership club and male students to help organize the conference. I think that’s really positive just reflecting the notion that it needs to be an inclusive discussion in order to affect change,” Roesch said.