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Reshma Saujani
Reshma Saujani, keynote speaker at BWCC 

What does a sustainable postpandemic workplace look like? How can companies cater to the needs of women, including working mothers? How do leaders inspire change? Leading activist Reshma Saujani discussed these and other critical questions at the 2022 Booth Women Connect Conference: Investing in Each Other for Unparalleled Impact.

Saujani—an attorney who founded Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that aims to increase the number of women in technology, and the Marshall Plan for Moms, a national movement to center mothers in our economic recovery and value their labor—joined a packed crowd of inspiring entrepreneurs, nonprofit founders, executives, and rising leaders to explore issues geared toward the success of women during the daylong event. BWCC was held in-person for the first time since 2019 while still allowing online attendees to participate throughout the conference. This year’s conference focused on the themes of leading with transparency to help level the playing field, creating a community that builds up women of all backgrounds, and committing to meaningful change locally and globally.

Throughout her keynote address, Saujani reminded attendees that simply returning to the office was not enough. “We need to resist the pull to go back to the ‘old normal’ of workplaces, because they never ever worked for women,” said Saujani, who is also the author of the recently released Pay Up: The Future of Women and Work (and Why It’s Different than You Think) and the international bestseller Brave, Not Perfect.

Read on for more key takeaways from the 2022 Booth Women Connect Conference.


Define Your Values to Find Success

When friends and business partners Desirée Rogers and Cheryl Mayberry McKissack took over cosmetics brand Black Opal in 2019, understanding one another’s values was critical to growing the brand and overcoming challenges. The storied brand had come to a crossroads, and the business partners needed to make tough decisions about how to present the products to a new generation of consumers.

“You have to have the same values, because that’s what saves you at the end of the day,” said Rogers, Black Opal’s CEO, who joined Mayberry McKissack on stage for a fireside chat moderated by deputy dean for MBA Programs Starr Marcello, MA ’04, MBA ’17. “You have to work with someone you care about and you like. If you don’t have the same values, it’s simply not going to work.”

Invest in Building Diverse Teams

Rogers and Mayberry McKissack, both longtime executives, emphasized the investment that’s needed to find and hire the right people. At Black Opal, that means prioritizing women, including women of color, to take on key roles throughout the company. In some instances, that meant offering more competitive salaries and spending months working with executive recruiters to fill some roles. For entry-level positions, the company now works with Spelman College in Atlanta and has shifted to focus on mentorship, Mayberry McKissack said.

“You have to work with someone you care about and you like. If you don’t have the same values, it’s simply not going to work.”

— Desirée Rogers

Know Your Leadership Style

It’s important to understand and acknowledge what kind of leader you are, because your leadership style sets the culture for the rest of the company, Rogers told the audience. “I want excellence out of myself and out of the team that works with me,” she said. “I want guts. We know we’re not always going to get it right, but I constantly set the bar a little higher.”

Reap Benefits from Diverse Viewpoints

Dean Madhav Rajan, who welcomed the enthusiastic crowd, emphasized the importance of attracting women—and others—to Chicago Booth through rigorous analysis, tight-knit community, and flexible curriculum. “We wouldn’t be the school we are today without a community of diverse opinions and backgrounds,” said Rajan, who is also the George Pratt Shultz Professor of Accounting. “We support one another and nurture one another, but we don’t need everybody to be or look exactly as we do.”

To help strengthen its diverse and inclusive community, Booth welcomed Angela Pace-Moody, AB ’97, as inaugural director of global diversity and inclusion. Since joining the school in July 2021, Pace-Moody has supported D&I initiatives for students in all Booth programs and acted as a liaison to the alumni community.

“As we embark on this work, I look forward to getting to know many of you and engaging with you on various initiatives,” Pace-Moody said in her introductory remarks at the event. “The office of Global D&I looks forward to developing and supporting programs and opportunities for the entire Chicago Booth community of learners and leaders that will deepen our individual and collective empowerment, understanding, and senses of equity and belonging.”

Spark Change through Collaboration

Many current Booth students—42 percent of the Full-Time MBA Program’s class of 2023 are women—also participated in the conference, affording the audience an opportunity to witness firsthand how they are creating change. Evening MBA student Christina Starks moderated the audience Q&A session with Saujani, while Evening MBA student Cassy Horton—a Neubauer Civic Scholar and executive director of the Pickles Group, a nonprofit that provides peer-to-peer support to kids whose parent or caregiver has cancer—emceed a discussion titled Chats for Charity.

The Chats for Charity conversation helped spotlight partnerships between corporations and nonprofits, including between Northern Trust and Ignite, Morningstar and YWCA, and GingerBread Capital and Invest in Girls. “At Booth, we know that it takes a focus across sectors to make lasting change,” Horton said.

Pursue Success through Flexibility

Throughout the pandemic, working mothers have dealt with huge professional setbacks and began leaving the workforce in droves to care for their families. As more companies and workers consider new solutions, Saujani says it needs to start with flexible work schedules, paid leave for both men and women, affordable childcare, shared responsibilities in the home, and convenient work arrangements enabled by the power of technology. “We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to not go back to a broken system,” she said.

“The fear of getting fired is not the same as it was before the pandemic. Recognize the power you have.”

— Reshma Saujani
Ayelet Fishbach speaks to attendees at Booth Women Connect Conference
Professor Ayelet Fishbach speaking to BWCC attendees over Zoom

Know Your Power at Work

Many workers of the millennial generation and younger are already rebalancing the scales in their favor, and demanding better working conditions in a tight job market where millions of roles go unfilled, Saujani noted. “The fear of getting fired is not the same as it was before the pandemic. Recognize the power you have,” said Saujani, who recently founded the Marshall Plan for Moms, a call for implementing systemic change to support mothers in the workforce.

Dodge the Drawbacks of ‘Leaning In’

But there’s a potential pitfall to trying to do it all, Saujani said. Oftentimes, the impulse to do too much can push women to succeed without practicing self-care or devoting energy to priorities outside of work. The result is burnout. “We learned that to have success and ambition you have to do it as a personal cost, and that’s where feminism was wrong,” Saujani said.

Choose Your Goals Wisely

Just because you’ve determined a goal doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you, said Ayelet Fishbach, the Jeffrey Breakenridge Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing and an IBM Corporation Faculty Scholar. During a breakout session, Fishbach—who recently published the book Get It Done: Surprising Lessons from the Science of Motivation—explained that some goals are not ideal for realizing. She suggests that before they get started, people take time to truly understand why they want to fulfill a particular goal. You should ask yourself whether the goal feels right in the moment, whether it will continue to be exciting and keep your interest, and whether you have the right incentives for meeting the goal and enjoying the outcomes. Setting goals where you are intrinsically versus extrinsically motivated helps too, she added.

Pick Bravery over Perfection

Saujani said success in the workplace requires courage to take on new challenges rather than a quest for perfection. Having a “perfection or bust” mentality often leads women to pass up key opportunities and fall behind in other areas of their life. Instead, women need to be confident about the choices they make—not just at work but also when it comes to prioritizing their own self-care at home. “We need to learn how to be brave,” she said.


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