Whence Came Yale Women’s Leadership Initiative

Origin stories are like myths. They are probably true at their core, but the details become fuzzy and sometimes unbelievable, as they are told over and over again. Experts say that one’s memories actually change every time one retells them. The following founding story of the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Yale is a true memory - one that has been recalled and retold many times, because of the beauty of what came later. 

In the spring of 2006, Allison Pickens woke up in the middle of the night in her dorm room in Swing Space and scribbled a bunch of thoughts on post-it notes that she stuck to her desk. For months, she’d been imagining a campus organization that empowered women leaders. She often found herself lonely, as one of the only women in her classes and clubs, which typically focused on debate. Having attended an all-girls school for middle and high school, she had belonged to a different world, in which women ran all the school organizations and didn’t hesitate to participate loudly in class. She wanted to build a new environment at Yale. But it was hard to know who to talk to about it and where to start. 

Later that semester she went to lunch with her friend and FOOT companion Tamara Micner. Tamara was Editor of the Herald, and she excitedly mentioned a story she was working on with author Alexandra Suich, who was also a journalist at the Globalist. Alexandra was writing about the challenges that women faced in attaining leadership roles in campus clubs and student government. Allison read the article and knew she had found kindred spirits. Suddenly an idea that had felt unattainable entered the realm of possibility, as she realized the prospect of working with a team of women who had similarly believed that the Yale community needed to change. 

Marissa Brittenham was Vice President at Yale College Council, and someone whom Allison had always admired as a member of YCC. After a student government meeting, Allison approached Marissa and Rebecca Taber (who later became the first woman YCC President in 7 years) and shared an idea to start an initiative that fostered women’s leadership on campus. 

Soon after, the five women sat together on the lawn in Berkeley College and mapped out the vision and charter for what became the Women’s Leadership Initiative. Never would they have imagined that 12 years later, after the founding story had long been forgotten, the organization would still be thriving. 

-- Allison Pickens ’07.  After graduating from Yale College in 2007 with a BA in Ethics, Politics, and Economics, Allison Pickens, the founding president of YWLI, earned her MBA at Stanford University School of Business.  She is the Chief Customer Service Officer at Gainsight in San Francisco.

Haleigh Larson followed in Allison’s footsteps, serving as YWLI’s President in 2017.  Haleigh will graduate from Yale College in May.  She will take a gap year before entering an MD/PhD program in order to focus on refining her interests in genetics and aging research, as well as pursuing an interest in science and health policy writing. Longer term, she plans to work in clinical genetics, hopefully helping to lighten the burden of Mendelian disorders and devising novel ways to do so, while contributing to the resolution of the complicated genetic tech legal bundle coming down the pipeline. She reflected on how her YWLI experience has shaped her life.

While walking out of the 7th annual YWLI conference as a first year in the spring of 2015, I chatted about the unique value women add to a medical team with an inspiring physician, and mother of a wonderful young woman who would later serve as one of WLI’s Vice Presidents during my term. During that day I listened to women from myriad disciplines and a variety of ages speak about making mid-career U-turns, double minority leadership and balancing life as medical professional. Not long after walking back to my room, I wrote an email to the WLI board asking how I could get involved planning next year’s conference. Fast-forward one year, and alongside an incredible team, I helped organize WLI’s largest conference to date. 

Apart from the wonderful relationships and career guidance, WLI’s open discussions on what being a woman and a leader really means attracted me. I knew that I had a minority point of view on the topic – to me, being a leader didn’t necessarily entail running a Fortune 500 company or being some type of Wall Street CEO, but was more of a combination of traditional leadership, character and personal development that encourages and positively influences the development of those around you. 

More than anything, I was motivated by WLI’s tradition of empowering young women to become leaders both here at the University and wherever their ambition and dedication take them. Our world is tumultuous, or rapidly changing to say the least, and discussions about women, women’s rights, women’s leadership, etc. are happening every day. In the midst of all this, it was difficult to define exactly what I wanted our focus to be during my year as President. Providing outstanding networking opportunities, mentoring relationships, and inviting inspiring speakers to help our fellow undergraduates achieve their ambitions was a no-brainer. But above all this I wanted to emphasize the ethic of a woman who finds strength from developing her principles and herself.  My time at Yale helped me realize that it is one thing to take advantage of a bevy of opportunities, but using those resources to help inspire an individual vision, develop your own initiative, and share that with others was something completely different.  Inspiring Yale’s undergraduate women to develop their resourcefulness and personal vision, with the support of our shared fundamental mission, was something I actively worked to encourage.

--Haleigh Larson ’18

Haleigh Larson ’18 and Allison Pickens ’07 contributed to this article. 

Pictured, from left to right: Kate Walsh '77 and '79 MPH, Eve Rice '73, Ming Min Hui '10 and Lynn Oberlander '87

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Seats at the Table: Women in Politics

You might have seen the March 9th posting on YaleWomen’s Facebook page that opened: “At least 494 women, both Republicans and Democrats, have said they’re running for Congress this year, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. That’s up from 312 women who filed to run for House or Senate in 2016.”

And it’s not just Congress.  Women are running at all levels of government. Recently, I met one at SOM’s student-led Philanthropy Conference, which draws professionals from throughout the tri-state area. She introduced herself by saying that she’d attended YaleWomen’s 2014 Gender Rules Symposium and that hearing Debbie Walsh, executive director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, had changed her life. In what way, I asked. I am running for state senator, she said. YaleWomen never knows where its seeds might be planted, or when or how they might take root.

If you are considering running for political office, be sure to connect with the Women’s Campaign School at Yale. WCSY is a nonpartisan, issue-neutral political campaign-training program, the mission of which is to increase the number and influence of women in elected and appointed office in the United States and around the globe. For two decades, WCSY has launched hundreds of women into the world of political campaigns, including running for office and managing campaigns, as well as advancing their careers in public service.

The 2018 session runs June 11-15 in New Haven.  Registration is open through April 16th.

- Susan E. Lennon ’85 MPPM

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All Yale’s Treasures Will Be Yours Once Again! Yale for Life

On March 10th, Kathy Edersheim 87, founding YaleWomen Council member, posted on YaleWomen’s Facebook page: “Check out the fabulous opportunity to join a week-long, intensely-educational, delightfully-social and possibly life-changing educational program at Yale this summer, Yale for Life. Yale for Life is the only alum education opportunity to be a true Yale student once again: living with alums in the undergraduate dorms (they're better than you remember!); taking thought-provoking and highly-participatory discussion seminar classes back in good old Linsly-Chit (with its lovely Old Campus views) with Yale's finest and most-engaging professors; and studying, communing, and socializing with many other "alum scholars." For more information and to register, click here.

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YaleWomen Chicago Hosts Conversation with Author Joanne Lipman '83 To Discuss Ways to Bridge the Gender Gap in Workplace Culture


On February 26th, YaleWomen Chicago hosted author Joanne Lipman to discuss the gender gap between men and women at work -- the topic of Lipman’s recently published book, That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together. (Elisa Spungen Bildner’s interview of Joanne Lipman – the former Chief Content Officer of publishing company Gannett and Editor-in-Chief of USA TODAY and the USA TODAY NETWORK -- appeared in the June 2017 issue of this enewsletter.)

Lipman’s book is particularly timely in the wake of the #MeToo movement and recent news about predatory behavior in the workplace.  To Lipman, predatory behavior in the workplace is just a sign of other systemic issues of gender inequality in the workplace. 

Lipman talked about how unconscious bias – bias that is buried so deeply that we don’t know it exists – affects workplaces and perpetuates the gender gap, even at companies that have implemented policies to push for gender equity.  She also highlighted how there is a sizeable respect gap between men and women: between a man and a woman with the same title, the man will get more respect and more power, which translates into more pay. 

Lipman recommended several strategies to help close the gender gap in office culture, including implementing a “no interruption” rule during meetings; using the strategy of amplification – having one colleague repeat another woman’s ideas so that she gets the credit for it; and also forming brag buddies – having a friend brag about your work – as a way to get more recognition for one’s work.

One of the rallying cries of the book – and a point Lipman emphasized during the talk -- is the importance of getting women back into the workforce.  Lipman asserts this could add up to $2.1 trillion to the gross domestic product of the U.S. economy over the next two decades.  

The YaleWomen Chicago event was a great success.  Over 30 Yale women alums attended and feedback was hugely positive, with a first-time YaleWomen Chicago event attendee praising the “open dialogue” with Lipman and the opportunity to meet alums in the area.  Another alum called it “a genuine treat” in a nice setting, with an interactive audience, welcoming environment, and engaging topic.

According to the organizers of the event, “Identifying the subliminal bias messages through conversation is our first action.  Recognizing the need for improvement, resisting old patterns, and being intentional about our strategies to increase respect, equal pay, and recognition will be a catalyst for change.”

Susie Krentz ’80, Margot McMahon ’84 MFA, Wendy Greenhouse ’77, MA ’82, MPhil ’84, PhD ’89, Becky Huinker ’93, and Stephanie Yu Lim ’00 contributed to this article.


Photo courtesy of YaleWomen Chicago.  

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YaleWomen Global Newsletter | December 2017

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Women Entrepreneurs at Yale ([email protected]) Initiative Launched with Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale

The newly formed Women Entrepreneurs at Yale ([email protected]) Initiative, led by Cassandra Walker-Harvey and Jennifer McFadden, aims to unite female leaders within the Yale community around discussions of innovation within their diverse fields of work and study. The initiative — part of the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale — is a way to formalize the collective efforts of Yale’s female leaders, to engage with a broader set of stakeholders from across Yale, and to continue creating a more entrepreneurial community of women innovators at Yale.

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Support YaleWomen

Since YaleWomen’s inception in 2011, alums have contributed their time, talent, and treasure to make our vision of “Connecting women, Igniting ideas, and Transforming the world” a reality.

YaleWomen is an all-volunteer organization that exists for and by Yale women alums. We charge no dues. We receive no direct funding from Yale.  None of our achievements would have been possible without your help and financial support – from these quarterly enewsletters that tell the stories and amplify the voices of women alums and leaders at Yale, to webinars that connect alums around the world in addressing timely issues that women face today, to social media that offer places of inclusive, vibrant, respectful and meaningful exchange, and chapters that engage Yale women alums at the local level through a rich variety of events.

If you value this work, please consider making a charitable gift to YaleWomen. Your continued support will enable us to maintain existing initiatives and build vibrant new programs. Your donations will also allow us to enhance support for our website, this enewsletter, and social media platforms – crucial avenues for communication that connect YaleWomen around the world.

You can donate online here or by sending a check to:

YaleWomen, Inc.
206 Elm Street, Box #2196
New Haven, CT 06520-2196

Your gift may also qualify for your employer’s Matching Contributions plan.

YaleWomen’s future is bright and we believe the possibilities are unlimited: together, we can continue to build an organization of informed, engaged, and dedicated Yale women who have so much to share with the world and with each other!


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Call for Nominations for the YaleWomen Award of Excellence

Do you know of an individual (or individuals) who has been an exceptional advocate for justice, equality, and access for women?  If so, we encourage you to submit your nomination(s) for the YaleWomen Award for Excellence by January 15, 2018.

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Join the YaleWomen Council

“To create a vibrant, engaged community of alums, drawn together by the common thread of our Yale experiences, that is committed to advancing women's voices and perspectives and to enriching and inspiring one another, Yale, and the world.” (YaleWomen Mission, 2011)

The YaleWomen Council is responsible for advancing this mission. Consider joining us!

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YaleWomen Council member Anne Boucher ’80 receives the Yale Medal

Anne Boucher ’80, a member of the YaleWomen Council and co-chair of the Chapters Committee, was one of five individuals selected by the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA) to receive the Yale Medal during Assembly LXXVII in November.

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