Women share experiences at first-ever Women's Leadership Conference

Air of honesty stimulates discussion among 200 leaders and innovators

A celebration of MIT women as leaders and innovators, held April 30 at the Hotel@MIT, drew a capacity crowd of 200 women to the first-ever MIT Alumni Association Women's Leadership Conference. Using the theme of “Innovating Success,” the conference highlighted the leadership MIT alumnae provide across many industries and professions.

Joyce Pinkham, MBA '00, said she was attracted to the conference by “the opportunity to take a step back and reflect upon leadership, especially from a female perspective.” Pinkham, who is a manager at Pittiglio Rabin Todd & McGrath, a management consulting firm in Waltham, Mass., was not alone in her enthusiasm for the conference's topic. The event sold out a month in advance.
After an inspiring kickoff presentation by distinguished MIT alumnae who graduated in four different decades, the morning was devoted to breakout sessions featuring alumnae working in a wide variety of fields. Sessions were held on city planning, education, research, government, media, finance, medicine/health care, corporate marketing, corporate leadership, and entrepreneurship & venture financing.

In candid presentations about the paths their careers have followed, panel participants explored two issues: how their gender has influenced their career choices and what impact, if any, gender-related issues have had on their ability to achieve their career goals.

“A conference consisting of all women creates an atmosphere of honesty,” said Irna Hutabarat, MBA '03, who is nearing the end of a two-year leadership program at United Technologies Corp. “You are open to sharing your personal, private stories as a woman without having to worry about what your male counterparts will think. That air of honesty stimulates discussion, shedding light onto issues that many people want to learn about but were afraid to ask. This is my first Women's Leadership Conference. I hope it will not be my last.”

“I was happy to share information about my career at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston in the hopes that it might be helpful to some of the other women attending the conference,” said Sally Green, GM '78, who was a panelist for the finance breakout session. “I find I always learn a great deal when I network with other accomplished women, both in my own industry and in other industries. The conference provided a wonderful opportunity to do just that.”

In the afternoon, attendees chose from five breakout sessions featuring MIT faculty and staff presenters. In one session, Lotte Bailyn, T Wilson Professor of Management at MIT Sloan, discussed the changes women faculty members have experienced over the past 30 years. She spoke about the impact of a 1999 report on women faculty in the MIT School of Science, which found unequal distribution of resources between male and female faculty on every variable studied.

“That report and the publicity it generated created change,” said Bailyn. “Awareness that there were gender issues at universities that needed to be dealt with became part of the conversation.”

Speaking after the event, Tabetha McCartney, GM '80, said, “Because my dad was an MIT alum, I've been going to MIT alumni things my whole life. There's never been anything before that brought so many high-powered, bright, wonderful women together. I thought it was a great idea. Also, it was nice to be around women who had made the same choices I had and didn't regret it.”

Conference planning committee member Mary Schaefer, a 1990 MIT Sloan Fellow and executive director of the new MIT Leadership Center, summed up the event this way: “It was incredibly energizing and inspiring to be among so many accomplished, bright women and fellow alumnae. I was struck in listening to the speakers how much age, race, an MIT education as well as gender create expectations and responsibilities when it comes to leadership and what we do in our careers.”

Related Link

Women at MIT Sloan