Women in Leadership Conference Celebrates 20th Year, March 12

Even as they celebrate the 20th year of the Berkeley-Haas Women in Leadership (WiL) Conference, organizers are looking two more decades ahead and asking: How can we empower each other to get further, faster by 2036?

This year’s conference theme, “Leading Today, Building Tomorrow,” recognizes how much has been accomplished and how much still needs to be tackled.

“It’s a huge milestone for Haas and for us,” said conference co-chair Sydney Thomas, MBA 16. “Through this conference, we hope to give our community the tools to support each other in our quest for gender equity in business.”

The event is the longest-running student-organized conference at Haas, bringing more than 500 students and professionals to campus March 12 for a full day of high-profile speakers, workshops, and networking. It is once again expected to sell out (register here).

The 20th anniversary comes on the heels of a successful push for gender equity at Haas, and at what seems to be a turning point for gender equity in MBA programs. This year, women make up a record 43 percent of the full-time Berkeley MBA program overall. Nationwide, women for the first time are more than 40 percent of the student body at a dozen elite MBA programs, according to a recent report by the Forté Foundation.

The one-day WiL conference reaches beyond the school, bringing students and professionals from outside UC Berkeley together to hear inspiring stories and share their insights on issues that affect women.

“We want people to get involved, and we want to be connected with the Bay Area overall,” said Erin Robinson, MBA 17, co-president of the Haas Women in Leadership club, which organizes the conference.

Kicking off the morning will be a keynote speech by Staci Slaughter, executive VP of communications and senior advisor to the CEO, San Francisco Giants.

The talk will be followed by a “Story Salon,” where a half dozen women will share openly about times when they have been most vulnerable, followed by discussion. It’s an unorthodox but deliberate way to help people break some of the invisible walls that can discourage networking, organizers say.

“It’s really intimidating for people to walk up to someone they don’t know and start a conversation,” said conference content co-chair Stacey Chin, MBA 16.

It’s not the kind of session all business conferences might have, but it’s one of the things that makes the Women in Leadership conference special.

“It’s an opportunity for our community to get closer together,” Thomas said. “Relationships are really critical to getting to the next levels in business.”

The afternoon keynote speech will be given by Robin Wolaner, COO of We Care Solar and founder of Parenting Magazine.

In addition to inspiration, there will be ample time for practical matters: afternoon workshops will tackle concrete skills like how to negotiate a salary, strategies for power and influence, and how to develop your personal brand.

The Haas Women in Leadership club holds events, hosts speakers, and does outreach throughout the year in order to help support women MBAs in network building. Club members have also taken a role in the Haas Gender Equity Initiative, an effort spearheaded by students in the Class of 2015 to increase the number of women in the full-time program. Their work with faculty, alumni and the admissions office helped fuel a 50 percent increase in the percentage of new women enrolling in fall 2014.

The group, which includes women and men, has continued to work on gender equity in admissions, academics, and school culture. Members also recruited “manbassadors” to encourage more men to get involved with WiL.