The Dynamic Women in Business Conference is put on by Harvard’s Women’s Student Association each winter. The conference aims to inspire and empower women to achieve their career aspirations. This year the theme of the conference was Our Mosaic: Stronger as We, which celebrated and explored the diverse backgrounds and stories that women can bring to the table, as well as the ways in which business leaders can leverage this diversity. With a plethora of speakers, both male and female, from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences within the business world, this particular conference recognized and celebrated the strengths found in diversity. We asked NUMA members, Anthar Nieto, Xilian Sansoucy, and Cheryl Lin to tell us about their experience at this conference.
Q: What was it like attending the Women in Business Conference for the first time?
Xilian Sansoucy: Empowering. It was so inspirational to see powerful women from all walks of life become successful in whatever they put their minds to. I got to attend workshops like “the Journey of Women Leaders” and “Technology for Social Impact” and heard from super inspirational keynotes.
Cheryl Lin: Attending the Harvard Women in Business conference was one of the most empowering moments in my life. I had never been to such an epic congregation where college students, young professionals, and senior executives were all networking and sharing their experiences and hardships with one another. While I’ve always had women I looked up in my circle of family members, mentors, peers, and plenty of artists and actresses, this conference was truly an incredible milestone for me to attend. It was a gathering where we celebrated the progress women have achieved in the world of business and reflected the multitude of issues that still need work.
Q: Anthar, this is your second time attending the conference, why were you originally interested in attending?
Anthar Nieto: Last year I became more interested in women and LGBTQIAA issues. I think it is important to hear what women that have worked really hard and accomplished important things have to say. On my way to the conference, I kept thinking of one thing: How many men are going to be there? I thought about it because I think that speaks volumes about situations we are dealing in the country and the world. I was very curious.
Q: What was your biggest takeaway from the conference?
Anthar Nieto: The event started with an African American speaker, she talked about self-reliance and believing in yourself: “If you have a seat on the table, you are there. Speak up! Use your voice” was a phrase that stayed in my head. I am an extrovert. However, one of the lessons I learned from my previous co-op was to speak up. Sometimes we doubt if we should say something, especially when we don’t have a lot of experience. These last couple of months I have been more vocal. I say what I think even if it takes more time or risk. I ask more questions, I take more notes: I’m much more aware. I felt it was advice that not only came from courage but from hard work and intelligence. It really sounded on a personal level.
Xilian Sansoucy: Find your North Star and stick to it. Make sure that what you’re doing leads to you getting closer to that star. Make mentors and sponsors along the way, and be open-minded to changes.
Cheryl Lin: My biggest takeaway from the conference was understanding how important it is to advocate on behalf of the intersectionality of complex social issues. It is equally important to empower women in business as it is to battle racism, step up against discrimination based upon religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, and also uplift those who are not financially stable. The passion and confidence in the voice of each speaker fueled the fire in my heart to strive for on a journey that is far from complete. Panel after panel, I was reminded of why it’s crucial to stay motivated and inspired so that the work we pursue has a bigger purpose than ourselves.
Q: Which speaker fascinated you the most, and why? Which messages resonated with you?
Anthar Nieto: I usually have trouble focusing my attention for extended periods of time. This time I was interested in the whole session. The panel consisted of two females and two males that talked about diversity in the workplace. The way they discussed this topic was very interesting from their different experiences. One panelist said: “This is not a gender war; many men have helped me in my career. This is about equality” there is something so obvious yet so intelligent in that statement that it made me feel I was really listening to people who wanted to make a positive impact in the workplace and the world. Then one of the speakers mentioned something that rang my bell “Look at the male/female ratio in this auditorium, it is important to create awareness about these issues.” The talk continued with topics like race, sexual harassment, work ethic, career change, impostor syndrome, innovation. Time flew by. I wanted to hear more.
Xilian Sansoucy: I really liked the speaker from Finsbury who gave tons of tips on public speaking. I liked her 4 C’s: concise, conversational, credible, and consistent. She also said to have only a couple of key messages to use throughout a presentation.
Cheryl Lin: Betty Thompson, CPO of Booz Allen Hamilton, who was one of the keynote panelists mentioned a metaphor that I found particularly mind-opening. She explained the nuance between diversity and inclusion, which are two key elements that can make a workplace more welcoming and dynamic by stressing that “you don’t just invite people to your party… you make sure everyone is dancing, feasting and having a good time!” It was such a simple yet fitting comparison and I absolutely loved the message it signifies, which is a call for more scrutiny towards companies that simply boast their impressive diversity statistics without incorporating and welcoming all of their employees. I hold this message really close to my heart because it reminds me of why it’s so important to actively engage and interact with those who are different from me. I find it incredibly amazing that we, as humans, can sometimes create more understanding and peace in the world when we are just willing to listen to the words that come out from another soul.
Q: Are there any networking opportunities available for students at this conference?
Xilian Sansoucy: Yes, there is a networking event afterward. However, I networked throughout the entire event, meeting new people at each workshop.
Cheryl Lin: Absolutely! The panelists were super friendly and willing to network with anyone after each session concluded and gave helpful advice regarding our questions about how to find more resources in our field of profession and methods to strengthen our soft and hard skills. My favorite interaction was with the people at the lunch banquet, where I got to talk with a handful of professionals from BCG, EnelX and National Grid about the development of business in the environmental sector. Since I currently am a co-op at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, we had a fruitful discussion about the future of the sustainability landscape and the opportunities of what changes the economy may experience due to the growth of renewable energy usage.
Q: Do you have any specific experiences about the conference that you would like to share?
Anthar Nieto: Honestly, I felt super overwhelmed because there were many panels I wanted to attend. I ended up going to the Women in Venture Capital panel. This panel gave me an insight into how much venture capital has been changing in the last couple of years and where it is heading. The panel consisted of seasoned entrepreneurs with experience in building businesses and investing. What I took from this panel is that It is important to keep an eye on what is going on the world to make an impact at any business: awareness is everything. People are very important in any institute or business and these women know it. Like I previously mentioned, they were all different but their capacity of awareness made them successful in their fields. This ability to think outside the box, to analyze beyond what’s obvious, to be out of their comfort zone is what made them so knowledgeable. I keep thinking how despite resistance, the world keeps moving forward. It is inspiring yet at the same time intimidating to see how we as humans can be so disconnected while evolving in different branches.
Xilian Sansoucy: In the Journey of Women Leaders workshop, we learned that women tend to make smaller counteroffers than men when negotiating pay. Men are also more likely to ask for a change in their job title. Sometimes, the best counteroffers are not money, but something like asking for an executive sponsor. You also have to make yourself unique to be able to successfully make counter offers. You don’t have to be afraid to negotiate, but just know the value you have.
Cheryl Lin: The theme of this year’s conference was “Our Mosaic: Strong as We” and I was truly impressed by how inclusive and welcoming this event was, as one a keynote speakers from the Gender Experience panel brought up the importance of breaking the rigidly constructed boxes of traditional gender roles and identities, why workplaces have the responsibility of standing up on behalf of their LGBTQ+ employees, and the equality of rights to sustain the culture of inclusion towards people coming from different walks of life. Upon the conclusion of the conference, I pondered upon the symbolism of mosaics, how stunning they are as a form of artistic expression and decided to post on my Instagram “every piece of a mosaic is unique and beautiful in its own way and when glued together, we form a powerful work of art” along with the pictures I took with my fellow NUMA members. I loved attending the conference and I learned so much about the power of uplifting and standing in solidarity together to empower all of us, as one.
Q: Any other aspects that you’d like to share about the conference?
Anthar Nieto: Did I mention a swag bag? Oh yes, it had a book titled “Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life”, as well as a portable battery charger, chocolates, etc. That was pretty neat.