Business has been a male-dominated profession for a long time. But recently, many women have started their own businesses and taken positions in business. On the weekend of Nov. 4, high school girls from all over the country gathered together for the first time at Harvard Business School to learn how to be successful in business. At the Young Women’s Business Leadership Conference, the girls shared their passions for business with students from all over the country and learned what it’s like to be a woman in business.
Harvard Undergraduate Women in Business, a group of Harvard business students, organized the conference to bring together high school girls to learn about the business world over the course of two days. The event hosted industry experts and speakers who informed the girls on what it is like to be a female leader. The conference aimed to have the girls build a network of peers and to build a community to empower and support young women.
Business teacher Brittany Stevens helped organize the trip and chaperoned at the conference. Stevens said the girls spent the first day attending break-out sessions and listening to a variety of keynote speakers.
“They brought together students interested in business to hear from both working professionals, women in the field and women who are studying business or alum of the business school at Harvard,” Stevens said.
During the second day, the girls were assigned to different groups and participated in an innovation competition. Sophomore Hallie LeTendre attended the conference and said the girls had to come up with a presentation that was a couple minutes long.
“When we were more comfortable, we broke into random groups with girls who were from all over the country,” LeTendre said.
Sophomore Jasmine Benitich, another Brookline attendee, said that getting to know the other girls was one of the more important aspects of the conference.
“What I liked was meeting new people,” Benitich said. “There were girls from New Jersey and from high prep schools.”
Sophomore Ifeamaka Richardson also went to the conference and said she saw this as one of the few places she could talk about being a woman interested in business.
“I feel like there’s not really a group for young women to talk,” Richardson explained. “The ones who want to do something important in the future.”
According to Stevens, throughout the conference, the attendees also learned about what it is like to be a successful woman in the business world.
“There was quite a bit about how you can approach male dominated spaces as a woman,” Stevens said. “What do you do if you want to move into finance, since finance is a thing that is predominantly men?”
Richardson said that one of the reasons she attended the conference was because business is such a male-dominated field.
“I want to prove the point that it’s not just men who can do business,” Richardson said. “Women can be smart in that too and dominate that if they want to.”
According to Stevens, the conference was a good way to meet other girls who had a passion for business especially when a majority of boys are interested in the field.
“As a teacher of the business classes my classes are still, and I’ve been teaching here nine years, predominantly boys who show up,” Stevens said
Richardson explained that girls need to be empowered so that they can be prepared when they realize that women aren’t always treated equally in the real world.
“I learned that the only way to stop people from being ignorant and biased is just to show them that you can do it and you’re not going to be the stereotypical woman,” Richardson said.
According to Benitich, the conference hosted different panels that had women talking about some of their difficult experiences in business.
“There were mini-presentations or little portals where there would be a table in front and women would just speak about their past, their struggles, what they like about being in business and a lot of advice,” Benitich said.
One of the many panels held was the diversity panel, which in Richardson’s opinion was not very diverse and did not offer very inspiring messages.
“I wanted people who struggled a little bit more, who didn’t have such a perfect glory story that everything just happened and fell in their path,” Richardson said. “I wanted someone who had to take a little bit of time and just think and think and think of ideas and finally making it through.”
Stevens too was bothered by a specific response during the diversity panel concerning a question about what to do if you are a female in a male dominated space. One presenter had answered that in this situation you should seek out a male mentor, Stevens said.
“For cis-female-gender identified students it’s good to have spaces where they can say, ‘No, I’m not going to get a male-mentor, I’m going to get a female mentor,’” Stevens said.
According to Stevens, the conference was a good opportunity overall for girls to take what they had been learning about and applying it to the real world through the powerful stories the presenters told.
“I think it’s easier to see yourself doing something one day if you have role models who have been there before,” Stevens said.