Men invited to join the conversation at Women’s Empowerment Day

Lecturer Krystal Thomas, center, talks with students at Women’s Empowerment Day 2017.

At a time when the #MeToo movement has left many men wary of workplace relations, organizers of this year’s Women’s Empowerment Day invited men to join the cause of supporting and mentoring undergraduate women.

More than 100 women were nominated by the faculty to attend the 6th annual conference on Friday, April 13, at Spieker Forum in Chou Hall. This year, the undergraduate women were asked to invite a total of 40 male students as guests.

Lecturer Krystal Thomas, BS 94, and Asst. Dean Erika Walker, who directs the undergraduate program, co-founded the event in 2013 to connect Haas alumnae to current students. The goal is to provide support, mentorship, and expand networks for young women planning careers in business.

A scene from Women’s Empowerment Day 2017

Including men in the conversation

Thomas said the decision to open the event to men came after she received feedback from female students who wanted to better understand how to build collaborative, collegial working relationships with male colleagues in the classroom and at their internships.

“We are including men in the conversation because frankly they haven’t been invited—they feel accused,” Thomas said. “A lot of young men don’t have the skill sets to deal with the environment.”

Throughout the day, students will participate in candid 45-minute career conversations with alumni mentors, including about a dozen women and three men. Ten students will also receive one-on-one life coaching sessions to provide specific tools to navigate career challenges.

Pressure to be perfect

Annie Wang, BS 19, said she’s looking forward to hearing career stories from powerful women at the event.

“I feel like women inadvertently feel more pressure and feel like they have to be perfect all the time, so it’s inspiring to hear stories about how that is not the case,” she said. Wang said she’s hoping to learn more about how women in the workplace combat “Impostor Syndrome”—feeling unqualified for their jobs, regardless of positive feedback.

She added that she’s happy that male mentors were invited this year. “I want to learn how to include men into the conversation and become allies with them,” she said.

Bank of the West is sponsoring this year’s event, with Beth Hale, executive vice president and head of the bank’s product management and payment solutions group, delivering a keynote on her personal journey.

Patrick Ford, MBA 17, who helped launch the “manbassadors” male ally program at Haas, will lead a breakout session for men on the benefits and challenges of workplace gender equity, exploring social expectations and unconscious bias.

“I think there’s a whole ecosystem of obstacles that women face in the workplace that men don’t, and that the challenges overlap and intensify,” he said. “The vast majority of men in office settings aren’t overtly sexist and aren’t sexually harassing anybody, but those men who are sexist play an outsized role in ruining office environments.”

Dan Mulhern
Dan Mulhern

“We silo ourselves in echo chambers”

Haas Lecturer Dan Mulhern said he got involved with Women Empowerment Day because he believes that men must be active participants in these discussions. In addition to teaching, Mulhern is a coach and has developed models for leadership and organizational culture. He will lead a talk on “Acts and Attitudes of Empowerment,” on Friday.

“Too often, we silo ourselves in echo chambers,” he said. “Change happens within open rooms and open minds.”

Emily Garcia, BS 17, recounted her experience at least year’s Women Empowerment Day on the Haas Undergraduate Blog, noting that she spent five hours with “some of the most amazing women I have ever met.”

“It wasn’t about distinguishing ourselves from one another,” she wrote. “It wasn’t about putting blame for inequality on men or any other group for that matter. It was about uniting ourselves together as women. It was about educating each other about an issue that truly does exist in society, and more specifically, in the business world. It was about inspiring each other to support one another, so that we can fight for the equality that is long overdue.”