Continued success after breaking through the glass ceiling was the theme of Columbia Women in Business’ 20th Annual Conference held at the Marriott Marquis on February 1. The highlight of the sold-out event was undoubtedly an engaging presentation by fashion icon and entrepreneur Diane von Furstenberg who spoke candidly about her life, her rise to the top and her company motto, “Celebrating freedom, empowering women and selling confidence.” CEO of Physique 57, Jennifer Vaughan Maanavi (EMBA ‘00), gave an inspirational speech and was honored as the recipient of CWiB’s Distinguished Alumna Award for her record of leadership, professional accomplishment and demonstrated passion. Several other panels and workshops, with topics ranging from negotiation skills to women in technology to transitioning from Specialist to Manager, made for a rewarding and educational day, topped off by a cocktail reception where attendees talked business over champagne.
The 400 attendees included current and admitted CBS students and CWiB members, as well as alumni and members of the business community, including representatives from companies like American Express, Barclays and Hukkster. But the draw of the event went beyond CBS’s campus and even the tri-state area – 38 undergrads from Saint Vincent College near Pittsburgh made the trek to New York City to attend the conference.
The day’s program began with the presentation of the 17th Annual Distinguished Alumna Award to Maanavi (pictured right), who co-founded innovative gym chain Physique 57 in 2006. She spoke openly about her decision to leave Wall Street to become an entrepreneur, admitting that the lifestyle is not for everyone. She also cautioned women in the audience against flextime. “Women end up working a little bit all the time,” she said, revealing she prefers to put in her time at the office then leave her work behind to focus on her three kids after hours.
Attendees then broke out in to three different panel presentations, including the “Social Impact Investing: Doing Well by Doing Good” panel, moderated by Courtney Quick ’14. This panel included five female speakers representing several different asset classes within the social impacting investing universe: Farha-Joyce Haboucha of Rockefeller & Co., Baily Blair Kempner of Endeavor Global, Mary Jane McQuillen (EMBA ’07) of ClearBridge Advisors, Amy O’Brien of TIAA-CREF and Jennifer Pryce (CBS ’00) of Calvert Investments. The discussion kicked off with the panelists providing their definitions of social impact investing and then explaining how each of their firms makes such investments. A common theme that emerged was that social impacting investing is often misclassified as ‘new’ and as a distinct asset class. Instead, the panelists emphasized that social impact investing has in fact been around since the 1980’s and can take many different investment forms across asset classes – ranging from highly liquid fixed income products to more illiquid instruments such as microloans. An engaging discussion around emerging measurement techniques and opportunities to scale up followed and the panel concluded with the panelists sharing their advice on how interested students should pursue a career in the space.
After the hour-long panel session, attendees gathered for lunch and the main event: von Furstenburg’s self-deprecating and engaging presentation about her life juggling children and career. “When I was young, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew the woman I wanted to be,” she said, explaining how she single-handedly launched the wrap dress craze decades ago through hard work, perseverance and a little dumb luck and good connections. “There are no shortcuts,” she added. Audience members laughed, cried and gave von Furstenberg (pictured above) a standing ovation when she was through in appreciation of her unique and enlightening take on the world.
After lunch, the conference spun quickly through two more rounds of panels and ended on a celebratory note: cocktails, champagne and hors d’oeuvres, the perfect ending to a day of professional and personal development.