Chicago Women in Business: An Interview with the Co-chairs

Chicago Women in Business: An Interview with the Co-chairs

Chicago Women in Business (CWiB) is a student organization for full-time MBA candidates at Booth. CWiB is dedicated to empowering women and advancing gender equity at Booth and in the business world. We’re highlighting an interview with this year’s co-chairs, in which they speak about promoting social connections in a COVID-19 world, helping women develop professionally for their future selves, and enhancing allyship at Booth.

Pre-COVID-19, Gender Equity Pledge

Lauren Buethe, Class of 2021

Why did you get involved in CWiB? I joined Chicago Women in Business (CWiB) after meeting the co-chairs at the student fair during Fall orientation. I had been involved with a women’s group during my undergraduate degree and believe it is important to provide a space for Booth women and allies to share stories and encourage each other as we all work towards our own personal and professional goals. CWiB has been the best of both worlds in that it enabled me to meet with other women from a wide range of industry backgrounds who share an interest in having open conversations about the challenges and successes of women in business, as well as having fun during their MBA experience along the way. I enjoyed my time with CWiB so much that I decided to apply for, and was thrilled to be selected as, a co-chair!

How has the Women in Business community at Booth helped you? The community of women has had a tremendous impact on my experience at Booth. From sharing stories with each other The community of women has had a tremendous impact on my experience at Booth. From sharing stories with each other over a glass (or several) of wine to hearing salary negotiating tips and tricks for successful alumni, it has been incredibly powerful to get to know this group of women. We (students and alumni) were disappointed to see the proportion of female Full-Time MBA students decline to 38% this year after moving closer to gender parity in the several years prior and are very committed to changing the trend. Looking ahead, I hope we can continue to maintain these strong connections as alumni and continue to pay it forward to an increasing number of boss Booth women!

Rani Patel, Class of 2021

What does Women’s History Month mean to you? I was raised by many strong women, namely my mother and grandmothers. While my mom did graduate from college, I am the first woman in my family to graduate from college in America. Women’s History Month celebrates the achievements of all the women in my life who shaped me into who I am today. It celebrates the women I do not personally know but that made a difference in history to open up the world to all the freedoms, dreams, and rights I have today. It celebrates all the women that have broken barriers so that our generation and generations to come can live to the fullest extent possible. Women’s History Month is a reminder that women are vital to society and that I, too, have a special part to play in this legacy. As we celebrate this year’s theme of “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced”, I remember all the women who gave me a voice today and am inspired to continue finding my voice in years to come.

What are your thoughts about the opportunities or challenges facing women entering the workforce?
Historically, women have struggled to find their place in the workforce, often sacrificing their professional dreams and aspirations for family and home obligations. Women have been less likely to participate in the workforce than men, and that participation rate was already on the decline before the pandemic. With unprecedented job loss due to the pandemic, I fear that women will permanently lose their jobs due to factors such as childcare and school. We’ve already seen 2.2 million women leave the US labor market since the start of the pandemic! I am, however, hopeful that while there is much work to be done, companies will create programs and policies designed to empower women in the workplace, including pipeline diversification, commitment to inclusivity, and reskilling. Further, I am inspired to put my business school and CWiB experiences to use as I go back into the workforce and help pave the way for fellow women. Our success hinges on empowering and supporting one another, even when the odds are stacked against us

Rutna Gadh, Class of 2021

What are your thoughts about the challenges facing women entering the workforce?

  • The glass ceiling: A partner at Accenture explained that moving up the ranks initially, promotions are based on work ethic and luck with projects. As we get closer to the partner stage, promotions are determined by who will pull us up. The glass ceiling will continue to exist at companies that have a “boys club” as long as men do not speak up for, normalize, and actively help up the ranks of those who identify as other genders.
  • The belief of needing to “do it all”: The world still expects women to “do it all”. A prime example is my own mother. She is an engineer, has a PhD, and worked while I was growing up. She was also our primary caretaker. Another example would be my grandma, one of a handful of female doctors in India in the 1950s. She too performed the role of her family’s primary caretaker. Whatever I may be “when I grow up,” my surroundings have tried to ingrain into me that the woman is the primary caretaker. We have been taught that our world shapes what we expect from ourselves. Yet, the world still expects women to be able to “do it all”, an unreasonable and unreachable goal.
  • Minorities standing up for other minorities: There is often a lack of cohesiveness amongst underrepresented groups. Although the nature of the discrimination we face may not be equal, I strongly believe that there is a lot to learn from the strife of others, and the phrase “unity in diversity” is hardly more relevant than when used to fight societal evils. As I graduate and return to the workplace, I will strive to ally with and speak up for other minority communities.

Despite the challenges listed, women have made a lot of progress in the workplace, even compared to 20 years ago. Thanks to the #metoo movement, there is awareness about the ubiquity and seriousness of mistreatment of women. Thanks to conversations we have in business school and at work, and my favorite term “mansplaining” (it’s so relevant!), people are more aware of microaggressions and the inherent disadvantage any minority has simply because they are the minority. Women also have allies! More and more people understand why allyship is important and want to learn to be better allies.

What are your thoughts on allyship and what it takes to become an ally? To me, the first step in being an ally is identifying as one. The second, equally important, step is understanding and being aware of your own biases. A recent encounter exposed how much I (unfortunately or fortunately), as much as anyone else, needed to become aware of mine. At First Day, a married couple introduced themselves to me as recent admits. I assumed the man to be an admit and the woman to be visiting as a partner. I asked presumptuous questions about the couple moving to Chicago for Booth. A few puzzled looks later, I realized she was the admit (!!!) What was wrong with me? Did I think that a man would be more qualified to be at Booth than a woman?  I had to confront my own unconscious bias – seeing the unequal percentage of women in Corporate America has wired my brain to assume that a man is more likely a Booth student than a woman—even as a woman myself. I have to remind myself to check my assumptions going into any new situation. Similarly, as an ally, I believe that treating those around me equitably starts with recognizing and combating my own unconscious assumptions.

Emily Pinnes, Class of 2021

Why did you get involved in CWiB? Some of the most influential people in my life have been strong female family members, mentors, and friends. CWiB’s commitment to building a powerful network of women enables Booth women to forge ties and sustain connections for a lifetime. It was a natural step for me to join CWiB when I started at Booth. 

What does Women’s History Month mean to you? To me, Women’s History Month is a time to celebrate women who have pioneered historical women’s rights movements, as well as modern women who are pushing the boundaries for women in society today. It is also a time to appreciate the women in my own life, and support women’s founded businesses. 

CWiB Park Picnic

Tess Glassman-Kauffman, Class of 2021

Why did you get involved in CWiB? Getting involved with CWiB was on my agenda before I even knew I would be attending Booth. After graduating from Barnard, which is a women’s college, I felt empowered to enter the business world as an advocate for gender equality and a fierce feminist. Unfortunately, however, I was not faced with the same level of support and engagement when I started my corporate job. I struggled to find my place in women’s organizations that I could not relate to, attending events where I felt more “othered” from my male counterparts than ever before (e.g. networking and makeover nights). As I progressed in my career and transitioned back to an academic setting, I set a goal for myself to learn how to organize progressive spaces dedicated to helping women grow as equals in their careers. Being part of the team of CWiB co-chairs, I have had the opportunity to learn from my peers on how to effectively plan relevant and useful programming to help with tactical skill building efforts, facilitate thoughtful discussions around the role that gender plays in our professional lives, and potentially more importantly, forming real meaningful relationships with other incredible women.

What are your thoughts about the opportunities or challenges facing women entering the workforce? After spending the past two years at Booth, I am even more confident in what the future looks like for women in the business world. While the majority of us have likely experienced gender-based (micro)aggressions in our professional lives, I have hope for the next generation of business leaders. I have found, among my peers, that there is an immense appreciation for the importance of gender diversity and lack of tolerance for gender discrimination. I find my friends of all genders grappling with their own biases when they see or feel them, and seeking to learn how to enhance gender equity in their worlds. I anticipate that identifying as a woman will continue to cause professional roadblocks for me, yet I am confident that tolerance for this behavior is dwindling amongst this next generation, and I am well assured that my classmates will call out inequity when they see it.

Yulu Li, Class of 2021

What does Women’s History Month mean to you? Nestled within Women’s History Month, is International Women’s Day (March 8). It is a public holiday in China and women can get half day off from work. As a child, I loved International Women’s Day simply as a holiday because it was precious family time for my mom to take a break and play with me. As I grew up, and am learning more about the history of women’s rights movements, it became not only a commemoration for the achievements of women in history, but also a reminder of what we can and should do as women living today.

How has the Women in Business community at Booth helped you? The women in business community at Booth means a lot to me. During the first a few months of COVID-19, I moved away from Chicago and lived alone in my apartment. CWiB kept me connected and engaged with friends and the Booth community. It’s the primary network I rely on whenever and with whatever questions I have.

Alex Freedman, Class of 2021

What are your thoughts on allyship and what it takes to become an ally? The definition of an ally is to cooperate for the sake of mutual benefit, yet all too often allyship is treated as an opportunity to help someone or a group reach a universal norm. This norm is quintessentially defined in the US as white, heteronormative, male, Anglo Saxon, and generally economically endowed. The interpretation of allyship as help originates from positive intent, yet it assumes that the group, be it women, LGBTQIA, or people of color, need allies because of a deficiency in them, rather than a defect in the so-called universal norm. Becoming an ally is not about perfection, it’s a process of working through not only one’s own biases and building alternatives grounded in equity.

How has the Women in Business community at Booth helped you? My world has always been filled with amazing women, and CWiB is no exception. Lockdown began as we seven entered into our co-chair tenure. Like everyone else, we didn’t have a playbook for how to turn an in-person community into a digital one. Leaning on each other, we identified our vision for CWiB and used going remote as a platform to build out new programming to realize that vision. From a new series of professional development workshops to founding Booth Equity Allies, CWiB’s growth this past year symbolizes to me what a group of dedicated women can build amidst challenging circumstances.

This year serving as co-chairs, has flown by. We are so pumped to be able to pass the torch to a group of incredible women to keep our community alive and close!

Bringing our community together, virtually!