Feb. 27, 2014

Women business leaders inspire students, alumni

Yos Bugallo, Valisha Graves, Megan Hughes and Susan Youngblood
Robert Barker/University Photography
From left, Yos Bugallo, Valisha Graves, Megan Hughes and Susan Youngblood speak at the Dyson Symposium on Women in Leadership, Feb. 22.

“Whether you choose to marry or not, have children or not, go to grad school, combine work and family or focus on one or the other, you need to know that you don’t need to strive for perfection. Just set your priorities and know what you want.”

So advised Barbara Novick ’81, co-founder and vice chairman of Blackrock, an international asset management company, at the Dyson Symposium on Women in Leadership on campus Feb. 21-22. More than 150 Cornell students attended.

A College of Arts and Sciences graduate, Novick said she often stretched outside her comfort zone at work.

“Early in my career at Morgan Stanley, the firm announced it was going to start a mortgage effort,” she said. “I didn’t even know how to spell mortgage, but I raised my hand. It turned out to be an amazing adventure.”

A few years later, she took the ultimate risk and started Blackrock with colleagues and friends. Now, 26 years later, the company is the largest asset manager in the world, managing more than $4 trillion.

The Dyson event included 25 alumnae in the early years of their careers, such as Caitlin Strandberg ’10 of Flybridge Capital and others with decades of experience such as Marilyn Laverty ’76 of Shore Fire Media; Shelly Porges ’74, MPS ’77, national finance co-chair of Ready for Hillary and a former senior adviser at the U.S. Department of State; Amy Siskind ’87, president and co-founder of The New Agenda; and Jonelle Bradshaw ’96, senior director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at Stonybrook University.

Other speakers such as Yos Bugallo, assistant director of inclusiveness recruiting at Ernst and Young, said many young women just entering the workforce don’t have a deep knowledge of their own strengths or aren’t vocal enough about what they’d like to achieve.

“There’s no reason to play shy about what we want,” she said. “You should always look and act like the person who has the role above you. Do things that challenge you.”

The symposium was the brainchild of Deborah Streeter, the Bruce F. Failing Sr. Professor of Personal Enterprise at the Dyson School, and her advisee, Kristen Barnett ’15, an applied economics and management major.

“Working with young women at Cornell, I see a hunger for dialogue with other women, both to make connections and to better understand how to navigate the world that still has some tricky landscape for women,” Streeter said. “They know the statistical reality women are underrepresented at the highest levels of power in all sectors, and they are trying to understand what it means for them as future leaders.”

Sponsored by the Dyson School, the Loulu and Moses Seltzer Endowment Fund at Entrepreneurship@Cornell and the Center for Corporate Leadership, the conference was planned by Streeter’s team and involved 13 student organizations. It featured keynote speeches, panel discussions and workshops with alumni from entrepreneurship, corporate, nonprofit and government sectors.

Stephanie Ko ’13, an organizer, said the conference was particularly inspiring for students exploring their career options because of the diversity of experiences represented on the panels.

To learn more about the conference, visit wil.dyson.cornell.edu.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship@Cornell.