Preparing women to lead in a post-pandemic world

Nine MBA women students
From left to right, top to bottom: Chyi-Shin Shu, Maggie O’Neill, Nicole Austin-Thomas, Sadie Shelton, Rebeca West, Marina Mamer, all MBA 21; Gina Deitz, Julie Reynolds, and Sitara Chandra, all MBA/MPH 21.

Equipping women with the skills to bounce back as strong leaders in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic will be the focus of the 25th annual Berkeley Haas Women in Leadership (WIL) conference next month.

Nearly 2.3 million women have dropped out of the workforce since the start of the pandemic, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On top of that, the pandemic has illuminated deeply-rooted gender equity, class, and racial injustice issues in the U.S. 

To prepare women to emerge stronger from the crisis, the WIL leadership team quickly decided that this year’s theme would be “New Leadership for a New World.” The conference will be held March 4-5.

“We’re living in a totally different world now and there are brand new roles for everybody to play, especially for women,” said conference Co-chair, Maggie O’Neill, MBA 21. From Jacinda Ardern to Stacey Abrams, this past year has revealed women leaders in a new light and we want to build on this momentum and help create a stronger, more inclusive definition of leadership.”

The WIL conference, one of the longest-running and most well-attended events at Berkeley Haas, brings together students, scholars, entrepreneurs, and corporate executives from Silicon Valley and beyond. Organized by the Women in Leadership club, the conference will be held during two half-days online. 

Conference organizers include Maggie O’Neill, Chyi-Shin Shu, Sadie Shelton, Nicole Austin-Thomas, Rebeca West, Marina Mamer, all MBA 21; Gina Deitz, Julie Reynolds, and Sitara Chandra, all MBA/MPH 21.

More than 250 people have registered for the conference, which will focus on celebrating pioneering women leaders, making an impact in local communities and beyond, and learning leadership skills for professional success. 

The team invited poets, activists, and journalists to lead panel discussions alongside executives and entrepreneurs. The idea was to expand the lens of who is a leader, said Nicole Austin-Thomas, MBA 21. 

Laila Tarraf, MBA 97, chief people officer at Allbirds, will kick off the conference with a keynote, followed by a story salon, a fireside chat, and a virtual wine tasting event for WIL members.

Dean Ann Harrison will open Friday’s sessions, followed by a keynote address from diversity consultant Mikki Kendall; a panel discussion led by Kellie McElhaney, executive director of the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership at Haas; a networking lunch; a fireside chat with poet and activist Cleo Wade; and breakout sessions focused on allyship and advocacy, authentic authorship, and building equitable outcomes.

Other notable guest speakers include Elena Gomez, BS 91, CFO of Zendesk; Vrinda Gupta, MBA 20, founder and CEO of Sequin Financial; Monique Shields, a Berkeley Haas career coach and founder of career coaching company Seven Pines Leadership; and Archana Gilravni, vice president of partnerships at the Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg Family Foundation.

Conference tickets are available here.