The Stern Women in Business Club held its annual conference on April 12, 2022, with the theme “Macro Forces and Micro Actions Expanding the Definition of Success.” The keynote speaker was Cynthia K Sakia, the co-founder of Vita Fede and Evolvetogether. The first panel, “Business, Society and Self” featured Pooja Bavishi, founder and CEO of Malai and Kit Krugman, Managing Director at co:collective and board member at WIN (Women in Innovation), discussing the macro forces that directly and indirectly impact our ability to succeed. The second panel, “What does it mean to ‘Have It All’” featured Rha Goddess, founder and CEO at Move the Crowd and Alisa Viti, menstrual and fertility health researcher and founder of FLO Living. They spoke about the way they took action to curate their paths to personal and professional success. This year, the conference was organized by Jess Romano (Full time MBA2 and VP Conference), Martina Lee (Full time MBA2 and VP Conference), Mekala Keshu (Full time MBA2 and VP Conference), Srishti Chandra (Full time MBA1, AVP Conference and incoming SWIB Co-President), Nina Weissman (Full time MBA1, AVP Conference and incoming SWIB Co-President) and Sam Miller (Full time MBA1 and AVP Conference). While the panelists could not appear in person, the club held a watch party in the Gardner Commons, complete with brunch and many of our classmates! I caught up with Srishti Chandra to talk about how the conference and its theme came to be.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
The conference was a huge success! The panelists were amazing, and I loved spending time with you guys. How long have you guys been planning it and what was the process like?
We started planning the conference around October, although it really picked up in November and then in February and March, we were just insanely busy trying to get everything together. We started by picking a theme. For context, SWIB has an entire conference vertical and there were six of us on it: three VPs and three AVPs. What I really liked was that they gave us a lot of say on the development of the theme of the conference and what exactly we wanted to work on. We agreed on a theme and moved on to sourcing the panels, the keynote speaker, and figuring out what we wanted to do for a social or in person activity. It was great that we were able to do the watch party; it could get boring just getting on a zoom call for four hours. That’s a lot of programming, even for me. I think being in person really helped.
Absolutely! So, the theme was Macro Forces and Micro-Actions expanding the definition of success. What inspired that theme and how did you go about selecting the panelists?
I think we all wanted to explore this topic of how we think of success. I think most people see our role in society as very black and white – like you can either be successful or not, you can either be an accomplished businessperson or not. We think of so many things in black and white terms but there’s a lot of definitions of what success means to people. Someone may want to prioritize their families and raising them versus others who may not want to have a family. Success looks different for everyone. I think that’s what really inspired the theme of the conference. And then the flip side of that is what can we do? What are the micro-actions that we can take that will help us figure out our own definitions of success within that or help us figure out the path that we want to be on? That’s how the theme really took shape. I think it was really about getting a diverse set of people to have on our panels, the keynote speakers and moderators as well, to explore that topic.
We also tried to get some Stern alums. We tried to get some people from different backgrounds – there were people in entrepreneurship, people who have been on boards of large consulting companies and also have written their own books about how they have forged their own paths. It was really a matter of outreach and seeing who was passionate about the topic and having them come in and speak if they could. We made a target list, did the outreach and luckily like almost everybody we wanted was available!
It was great! The panel that you had on “What it means to Have It All”- I think that was my favorite. What would you say was your favorite part of the event?
I think my favorite part of the event was definitely “What it means to Have It All” too. I was really excited about that one. During the watch party, it was really cool to see some of the allies who were in the room really understanding what it can be like for women out there. Alisa Viti and Rha Goddess were on the panel and they were talking about things like how our [menstrual] cycles can affect our lives. So, I thought that was an interesting discussion for our allies to be a part of and to see them be so engaged was really impactful for me. I would also just say having Pooja Bavishi on the “Business, Society, and Self” panel was great. Not only is she a Stern alum, but she’s also a South Asian female entrepreneur, which to me personally means a lot as someone who’s aspiring to start my own business. So, it was amazing to see these female entrepreneurs come and speak on panels like this about things that they’re so passionate about.
Yeah, the things Pooja spoke about were so relatable and eye-opening for me to know that other women have also gone through stuff that I have gone through.
That’s amazing. I think one thing that was really good was that each of our speakers seemed to hit a note with somebody or the other, like, even if you couldn’t relate to one as much as the other I think collectively, they all brought experiences that people could relate to on some level. And that’s a testament to our moderators as well. I think they did a great job playing in between all the panelists.
That’s true. What challenges did you face setting up this event?
Logistically, it could be messy when it’s crunch time! Securing the panelists and making sure that we have the right mix on each panel and the keynote speaker and making sure that they have the time to attend was the biggest challenge that we had to overcome. And luckily, we were able to secure some great speakers! And then also just pivoting really quickly to having something in-person, because I think Stern came out with the guidance for in-person events a couple of weeks beforehand. One of the other challenges we had was trying to coordinate with admissions. Admitted Students Day was on the same day as the event. The SWIB conference is a big pull for a lot of female admitted students. So, the fact that the Admitted Students Day was during the same time was a little bit of a challenge, but we were able to work with admissions on being able to guide them to our watch party.
I’m glad it all worked out in the end! How do you think the reception for the event was and for the watch party as well?
I think overall, it was really positive. The watch party feedback was really great. And you know, we were a bit nervous, right? Like six of us are really excited about the two topics that we’re presenting and for our keynote speaker as well but this event is really for hundreds of people. So, I think we were all a little bit nervous. Like, are these topics going to strike a chord with people? And so I think the feedback that we got was that people were really able to relate to our speakers. I think everyone really enjoyed the brunch watch party as well. We had a great spread of food and that always helps! And just being in-person again with each other and being able to talk to someone else about things during the little breaks in between panels – things that you heard that maybe surprised them or that really resonated with them. Even for those who were virtual – I remember getting a lot of messages that said things like, “Oh my gosh, this is so relatable. I love that we’re talking about this.” Seeing that reception just made us realize that this was going well.
For sure! And last question – what’s coming for SWIB next year?
Oh, there’s a lot coming for SWIB next year – being back in person and being able to have in-person events with food and drink and all of that. That’s something that Nina and I are really trying to hone in on as club presidents to make sure that we engage with the SWIB community as much as possible, beyond just another development event. Really focusing on the aspect of “this is SWIB.” You can make friends here, you can find mentors here and create really deep connections, both professionally and personally. Fostering that kind of a culture is a priority for us. And then we also have a huge pipeline of professional development events in the mix. We have a really great VP of Professional Development (Anna Gallagher) and so we’re really excited to put on workshops and discussions that we think will be beneficial for SWIB members. I think it’s this weird situation where we’re an affinity group, so we focus on a lot of the identity aspect, but we are women professionals too which is a huge part of being in SWIB. So, we’re really trying to figure out how we can introduce a bunch of different niche career paths to all the women in business even outside of consulting, tech, and banking. We really want to try and highlight that next year and are working on a format that is hopefully beneficial and also potentially work with other clubs, if they want to join in on it as well.
Awesome! That all sounds amazing, and I think it’s going to be a great year for SWIB next year!
Thank you! I also want to give a shout out to our Co-Presidents, Shruti and Katie (Shruti Nanda and Katie Medina) for being so supportive. They were integral to the entire process and making sure we had all the help that we needed with figuring out logistics for the conference. And look out for more in-person events next year. I think this year with restrictions that just became a little bit difficult.
Absolutely, fingers crossed!
Yeah, fingers crossed!