The University Record, November 12, 2001

Focus is on women leaders in business

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

The creation of a new national, non-profit organization designed to increase the number of women business owners and business leaders was recently announced during the group’s first board meeting at the Business School.

The new organization, whose name and headquarters have yet to be determined, is an alliance of educational institutions, businesses and non-profit groups working together to build awareness of business education and careers among young women, to increase the pipeline of women entering business, and to support the careers of women through business networks.

“One of the key barriers to access to business education is the lack of awareness and knowledge women have about the value and flexibility of business careers and education,” says Jeanne M. Wilt, executive director of the new organization and assistant dean for admissions and career development at the Business School. “We need to demonstrate more effectively how business careers can be intellectually challenging, financially rewarding and socially useful.”

Anna K. Lloyd, president and executive director of The Committee of 200 (C200), a professional organization of pre-eminent businesswomen that promotes entrepreneurship and corporate leadership among women, says that society must come to see opportunity and advancement for women as a business issue—just as fundamental as productivity, quality or product development.

“Only when business people understand that practices that expand women’s opportunities also make businesses successful in the marketplace, will they then commit to supporting these practices, year in and year out,” says Lloyd, who will co-chair the new group’s board with Joyce Mullen of Dell Computer Corp. “Business must realize the full potential of everyone in our workforce in order to maximize its fullest potential.”

To help motivate young women to prepare for business careers, the new organization will work to increase women’s access to education and business networks, educate women about the value of a graduate degree in business, support women financially in their business education, raise awareness of the impact women can make on business and society, and encourage and support cutting-edge research on relevant topics.

“The goals of the new group are very much aligned with those of C200,” says Connie K. Duckworth, advisory director at Goldman, Sachs and a C200 member. “Our members are looking for ways to significantly impact opportunities for women and this organization will provide many avenues for involvement.”

In addition to the Business School, C200 and Dell, members of the new group include Deloitte Consulting; Goldman, Sachs & Co.; JP Morgan Chase & Co.; Kraft Foods Inc.; Procter & Gamble Co.; Consortium for Graduate Study in Management; U-M Center for the Education of Women; and the business schools at Columbia, Dartmouth (Tuck), California-Berkeley (Haas), Chicago, Pennsylvania (Wharton), Texas (McCombs) and Virginia (Darden).

Over the next three years, the new organization plans to substantially expand its membership of business schools and companies, serve alumnae of member schools, and develop strategic partnerships with other key organizations that work with women and girls. It aims to raise $20 million to support its work by 2004.

The group originally came together to act upon the findings of “Women and the MBA: Gateway to Opportunity,” a report published in June 2000 by the Business School, Center for the Education of Women and Catalyst Inc. The study identified several barriers for women in pursuing a graduate degree in business.

The study and subsequent founding of the organization grew out of the Business School’s institutional commitment to increase the number of women in business nationally and to become the school of choice for female MBA students. The School’s Women in Business Initiative, led by Wilt, includes a three-year, $600,000 grant to further this effort; an annual Women in Leadership award and conference; and the Women’s Leadership Council, the first all-women advisory board at a U.S. business school to help support and recruit female business students.

“Women’s participation in business is a concern for all leading business schools,” says Rose Martinelli, director of admissions at the Wharton School. “We are very pleased to work in partnership with the other members of the board to create avenues for greater inclusion of women in business leadership.”

Overall, Wilt believes ample evidence exists in today’s research and literature to make the case for new thinking on women and business, and she says the timing is certainly right for a new national organization to help foster such ideas.

“The bottom line is that women have enormous influence today and can have much more,” she says.

“This is an exciting time in business and for women in business. This organization will be the result of a wonderful convergence of the recognition of the need for more women in leadership positions in business and an increasing sense of confidence in women themselves.”