Illustration by Verónica Grech
As a fresh graduate from Chicago Booth, Margaret “Maggie” McCoy, ’83, felt entirely ready to face the world of business. Except she had one pressing question: What should she wear to work?
It was the early ’80s, and McCoy didn’t know where to turn.
“This is extraordinarily basic, but men wore suits at that time, and most of the women I had seen were secretaries or had significantly less powerful managerial jobs,” says McCoy, who worked for more than 30 years in insurance and finance operations before pivoting to nonprofit finance consulting. (She is semiretired now.) She wasn’t sure what to wear to reflect her managerial role, or where to buy it.
For this, she turned to the University of Chicago Women in Business Group (UCWBG), an organization founded in 1980 to address the professional and personal developmental needs of women in business at the university. Through speakers, forums, events, and networking summits, the women—who numbered 300 at the group’s peak—learned everything from how to find their voice in meetings to how to construct work-life balance. And of course, they helped McCoy with what to wear while doing it all.
“We were trying to make our way in the business world,” McCoy says. “We wanted to make a success of our lives using the tools we had been given, as well as reach out to other professional women who needed that support.”
Mary (Tweedie) Go, ’07 (XP-76), the founder and principal at Go Forward Insights, was one of those women. Go joined UCWBG in spring 2007, after graduating from Booth’s Executive MBA Program, and would later serve on the UCWBG board. She was coming from a career where she was often the only woman in a position. “The UCWBG were a group of strong women who were really pioneers in their own careers ahead of me,” Go says. “It was a foundational experience that I later used to start my own company a decade later.”
As of 2020, there were more than 12,000 Booth alumnae living across six continents. The questions the women pondered and debated via the UCWBG are still relevant today, and they were also raised by another women’s group founded at Booth in 2002: the Chicago Booth Women’s Network (CBWN).
“The UCWBG were a group of strong women who were really pioneers in their own careers ahead of me. It was a foundational experience that I later used to start my own company a decade later.”
The original women’s group— the UCWBG—recently dissolved. It chose to donate its remaining funds to the CBWN for programming. Both groups’ visions were nearly the same, with CBWN launched in partnership with and supported by Booth Alumni Relations. The CBWN’s mission is “Women empowering women for professional success,” explains Nima Parikh, ’98, the president of the organization.
“The UCWBG gathered and had the same idea of women helping women,” Parikh says. “There is still inequality, and it’s not just from a salary perspective.”
The CBWN is still battling unconscious bias, the automatic “default parent” bias, and the idea that men’s jobs are more important than women’s. This has been especially apparent during the COVID-19 shutdowns, when women were disproportionally forced to drop out of the workforce to care for children.
But those are just an example of some of the issues the CBWN recognize, Parikh says. The topics evolve as women make strides in the business world, yet there is still more to do, she explains.
Now, the CBWN is strategizing on ways to take the current world as it is while helping women succeed professionally. In Spring 2021, the CBWN redesigned its Leadership Summit series. Women Leading in a Time of COVID involved 10 virtual sessions with speakers: chats and panels focusing on topics such as negotiating career pivots, leading with your whole self, focusing on wellness, and thinking big. The success of the series, and its global reach, has encouraged the board to incorporate more virtual programming as they strategize around the CBWN’s annual suite of leadership summits, brunches, idea exchanges, and holiday teas. The UCWBG’s gift will support the CBWN as they aim to address global programming and activities that champion alumnae professional success.
“We all made an investment to go to Booth,” Parikh says. “Our careers and our professional development are important to us.” Those investments are slowly but surely propelling women in business forward.