Prior to the pandemic, it was estimated that it would take about 100 years to close the gender gap. The World Economic Forum found that COVID-19 has only worsened this inequity—it will now take 135 years to achieve gender parity. The pandemic rolled back progress that had previously been achieved, as women took on extra responsibilities at home—or left their jobs completely. Now more than ever, it is critical to support women, especially in fields where they are underrepresented, like in business, where only 8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. For these reasons, the Women in Management Club was enthusiastic to revive Fempire on February 26, after a hiatus due to COVID-19.
Fempire is a colloquium used to create a space for addressing the pressing issues affecting women today. The theme for this year’s colloquium was “Women as the Main Character: How Do Women Champion for Themselves and Thrive in Their Personal and Professional Lives in 2022”? Fempire was attended by more than 130 people, including both current and prospective students. We hoped to equip and empower current students with information about returning to the workplace, given the changing business landscape that has occurred during the pandemic. We were energized by the idea of having a space to bring our classmates and friends together in person and virtually to foster a sense of community, a difficult task given the constantly changing structure of classes (e.g., Zoom, hybrid, in-person) during the pandemic.
The colloquium was held in-person for current Yale students and on Zoom for non-Yale students. In-person attendees received a swag bag including complimentary products from one of our sponsors, MoroccanOil, and a copy of a book written by a female author related to the themes of some of our breakout sessions. We were fortunate to have 16 wonderful speakers share their thoughts, connect with students, and learn from one another. Collectively, our speakers were part of five breakout sessions on the following topics: mentorship and sponsorship, navigating male-dominated industries, how to factor your biological clock into your life and career, growing your career/business while growing your family, and imposter syndrome.
Our keynote speaker, Valentina Antill, global head of cross-border and public sector solutions at Citi, kicked off the colloquium with an inspiring talk. Originally from Croatia, she shared her experience navigating the finance industry for the past 27 years. One key insight she shared was that we should seek mentors (irrespective of gender) who excel at things we wish we could do as well as them. She also said that it’s important to have a continuous growth mindset and focus on learning and self-improvement. Her thoughts on work-life balance were also interesting: “Know that you can’t do everything perfectly all the time. You need to make choices. Look at your life in the big picture, asking yourself what is one most important, most consequential thing in the moment and then choose your priority.” Her experiences and the advice that she revealed through her various anecdotes resonated with attendees and were discussed for the rest of the day and in the days following the end of the colloquium.
Takeaways from other sessions were just as impactful. One takeaway we had from the “Navigating Male-Dominated Industries” breakout session was that focusing on our strengths is important. Embracing and building upon our strengths is often more effective than compensating for our weaknesses, and searching for opportunities/working styles where we can best leverage our strengths is something that helped many of our panelists. From the “Growing your Career/Business While Growing Your Family” session, we learned that topics like supporting women in finding work-life balance is one that includes everyone, not just women. True change requires institutional policies, and introducing such changes in our future organizations will be crucial if we hope to enact widespread change.
After months of planning, we are so happy we were able to hold our colloquium—in-person, no less! Our goal was to get the conversation started around these vital topics. After the colloquium ended, we provided everyone with further reading (including articles and TED Talks) around the session topics that we discussed to keep the conversations going. Our hope is to inspire our classmates and provide them with more information on what other successful women before us have done. We’re also hoping that Fempire is an annual tradition that will continue long after we leave and that it engages all genders, not just women, in these important dialogues. In our current environment, when women’s rights and gender parity keep taking a backseat, it’s now more important than ever to continue these conversations. We are thankful to our sponsors: MoroccanOil, EY-Parthenon, ZS, Amphenol, and the Yale School of Management; our awesome speakers; and our committee, Allegra Girardello, Pranjali Kumar, Maria Leroux Padilla, Jiali Liu, and Aishwarya Smriti, for making this event possible.