Smart Women Securities presented at the fifth annual 2014 Women in Leadership Conference. (Courtesy of Emily Harman)
By Amina Bhatti
Nine a.m., Walsh Library, Fordham University: Groups of budding businesspeople, along with professionals in the business world who are already well-versed in their fields, took the elevator up to the Special Collections section of the library, many of them holding sleek black bags and balancing their coffees.
Most of these individuals were young undergraduate women from Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business, arriving to attend the fifth annual 2014 Women in Leadership Conference. Fordham’s chapter of Smart Women Securities (SWS), a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching female undergraduate students about investment, held the conference to shed greater light on the field of investment.
Beginning with just five members in 2009, the SWS chapter of Fordham, inspired by Columbia University’s chapter, has now expanded to about 100 members.
SWS CEO Emily Harman, GSB ’16, kicked off the event with a discussion of the main theme of the event. “Our theme this year is that your network is your net worth”, she stated. “A lot about what you learn [especially in the field of] finance … is that it’s not about what you know but who you know.”
One keynote speaker at the Conference, Teresa Heitsenrether, drove Harman’s point home when she pointed out that while businesswomen can have the know-how and qualifications for their field, they often lack the confidence to speak up and make themselves heard, decreasing their chances of creating networks and advancing in their fields. “
Sit at the [business] table…you will not be taken seriously if you sit in the far corner,” Heitsenrether advised, emphasizing the importance in contributing what you know in order to be noticed and listened to.
“You’re all smart women…just as smart as the men,” she stated, looking about the predominantly female audience. “But you need to be confident.”
Heisenrether is the managing head and global director of Prime Brokerage at J.P Morgan, and discussed her own experiences in the business world, namely in managing hedge funds. Besides telling the young female audience to be assertive, she gave words of wisdom stressing the importance of being innovative, staying focused on the present and not being afraid to ask questions. Jean Wynne, an alumnus from Fordham and currently the managing director and chief administrative officer for the president at BNY Mellon—the oldest bank in America—also stressed assertiveness.
She talked about a business concept known as PIE: Performance, Image and Exposure.
In short, PIE means one can have the performance needed for a particular field, but it will be to no use if one does not present oneself with a particular image and become exposed to new experiences and networks. In addition, Wynne discussed the idea of reinventing oneself in order to reach goals. Both Wynne and Heitsenrether agreed that it was important to take risks in the business world, in order to climb the career ladder or simply realize what you want.
The Gabelli School of Business opened in both campuses starting Fall 2014. (Mike Dobuski for The Fordham Ram)
Even if those risks do not pay off, it is also important not to forget that “we are all human… and make mistakes,” as Wynne stated. What is important, according to her, is learning from those mistakes and “working for people you admire and…can learn from.”
Meredith Jones, director at Rothstein Kass spoke next. She talked about how certain fields in the business world favor women. She discussed the hedge fund industry and how it is distinguished from traditional investment banking. “Its very entrepreneurial, and there…have been a lot of recent changes that make it a much more hospitable to women who want to get into the field,” Jones said. She explained that research has shown that women have higher success rates than men in hedge-fund industry. Some research suggests that the way women think and behave may partially explain their success in the hedge fund industry.
“For the people in this room… it’s a great time, particularly if they like entrepreneurial environments, to consider hedge funds as an alternative to traditional investments…”Jones stated after her speech.
Another aspect that was important for women to consider in the business world, or in any career path they chose to take, what that of prioritizing. “What is most important to me?” was the question nearly every keynote speaker told the students to ask themselves.
The harsh reality for many women today is that they must struggle to maintain a “work-life balance,” and juggle family, work and one’s own interests. The message of each speaker was that in order to be successful in a career, one must evaluate priorities and decide which one comes first. It is up to the woman (or man) to decide what takes precedence in her or his life.
Between the speeches, the conference had special breaks in which business students could network with the guests of the event, as well as with each other—an activity that gave life to the theme of the event itself.
Later, there was a graduation cord ceremony for the student organizers, and a presentation of flowers to the guest speakers. Stephanie Breslow, partner of the New York Office and leader of both the Investment Management Group and Schulte Roth and Zabel LLP, presented the closing speech of the conference.
Krista Kilsen, GSB ’17, found the conference to be a way to learn from those that came before, and found it as a means to “take suggestions [from these women] and follow in their footsteps.”