Undergrads Inspired by Alumnae at Women’s Empowerment Day

Cynt MarshallSixteen alumnae returned to Haas to mentor and share career advice with Haas undergraduates at the third annual Women’s Empowerment Day April 10.

After Marvin Gaye’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough rallied the crowd at UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium, Cynthia Marshall, BA 81, and senior vice president of human resources at AT&T, shifted gears to the day’s more serious theme: empowering women in the workplace.

Marshall, (pictured) who grew up in Richmond, Ca., and is a 30-year veteran of the telecommunications industry, described how a female boss at her first job told her that she looked “too ethnic” because she wore her hair in braids and red shoes with heels. She described going home that night and, with her mother’s help, taking out the braids, and scraping enough money together to buy new, neutral-colored shoes.

Her message today: to stand your ground and be you authentic self.

“[Her message] wasn’t so much about being assertive in the workforce, but remaining true to yourself and supporting other women,” said Emily Benjamin, BS 16, who plans to work in the tech industry after graduation. “The workplace is tougher for women, but she encouraged us to know ourselves, be ourselves, and know that we can do anything.”

Haas Undergraduate Women’s Empowerment day was founded in 2013 after Haas alumna Krystal Thomas, BS 94, and Undergaduate Assistant Dean Erika Walker, teamed up with the idea of connecting alumnae with current students. The goal is to provide support, mentorship, and expand networks for young women planning careers in business.

One gender issue that was top of mind at the conference: the wage gap between men and women. Women represent almost half of the workforce, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. While they are the equal, if not main, breadwinner in four out of ten families, women earn far less than men. In 2013, female full-time workers made just 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 22 percent, according to the Institute.

Throughout the event, speakers encouraged students to be assertive about fair pay when accepting a job and negotiate salaries and pay raises. They also encouraged students to apply to more jobs and to expand their search to industries outside the “pink ghetto”—or fields dominated by women.

“Your success is ultimately dependent on being assertive,” said Jess Mersten, BS 16. “I like to think that my gender won’t restrict my options in what I pursue.”

Alumnae from companies ranging from Facebook and Yelp to Speedo and LeapFrog participated in the day, which featured speeches from Marshall and Kellie McElhaney, an adjunct assistant professor at Haas and faculty director at the Center for Responsible Business. Throughout the event, undergraduate women nominated by faculty and staff participated in roundtable discussions with 12 alumnae, rotating to a new table every 40 minutes. Select students also received a one-on-one coaching session.

Benjamin said that the event has already helped build her network.

“The trust that Haas students and the alumni can share is absolutely incredible,” Benjamin said. “It shows that if you are vocal about what you want and have people around you willing to help, there is nothing that can stop you.