Wesleyan Women in Business, a group that aims to create a space for female-identifying students interested in business, met for the first time last Thursday, Oct. 3. The members plan to share their experiences with each other and learn about the resources available to students hoping to pursue careers in business. The group, started by Maggie Caroline Feldman-Piltch ’14 and Oladoyin Oladapo ’14, also hopes to have members participate in conferences and competitions, as well as bring speakers to campus.
Feldman-Piltch and Oladapo worked together this summer at The Conference Board, a non-profit business membership and research group organization. Feldman-Piltch explained that this experience made both students realize that they want to immediately pursue careers in business after graduation, but that they were not clear on how to do so.
“[We were] realizing not only what we wanted to do, but when we wanted to do it, but not necessarily knowing how,” Felman-Piltch said. “[Oladapo] and I are both from underrepresented groups, and women are also an underrepresented group, and in figure out the ‘how,’ I think it was the first time that we were really caught guard by it.”
Oladapo added that there seemed to be a perceptible lack of resources at the University for women hoping to go into business, especially compared to other universities.
“It was really clear to us that there was a lack of support, but there was also an interest in the student body,” Oladapo said. “It was very frustrating, especially to see my friends from other institutions have a more supportive system of women in business and entrepreneurship. If you don’t have it, you have to make it yourself.”
Feldman-Piltch echoed this sentiment.
“I would consider myself pretty well versed in the resources of Wesleyan, and I know that if I’m feeling lost, then we’re probably not alone, hence this group,” she said. “Clearly there’s a need for this, and there’s want for it, which is great.”
Taylor Hotvet ‘14, who attended the group’s first meeting, noted the importance of it being geared toward women.
“I just think it’s really nice to have a group for women on campus,” she said. “Just having that environment where people can come in, talk, and be like, ‘I was the only woman at an interview,’ or, ‘They said I dressed wrong; what do you guys think?’ Just having that place to speak out and get ideas from other women, I think, is really empowering.”
In addition to serving as a sort of support system, one of the group’s goals is to help students begin prepar- ing for business schools while they are still undergraduates. Most Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs require that applicants spend several years out of school before applying, but several programs, such as those at Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of Chicago, allow students to apply while seniors in college and then defer for two years.
“It’s important that schools start creating a culture for it because se- niors are getting more into the business school realm before they graduate,” Oladapo said.
Feldman-Piltch agreed that it is important for an undergraduate institution such as Wesleyan to foster these resources.
“When I tell someone [I want to go to business school], they’re like, ‘Oh, you don’t need to be doing it now, you can wait,’” she said. “But I want to do it now. There’s no reason for me to wait. There are not a lot of resources to help me navigate that.”
Yet the biggest problem as Oladapo and Feldman-Piltch see it is that women are still critically underrepresented in the business world. Oladapo described this problem as being embedded in society.
“There is this culture, not just in America but in the world, of women not being in certain fields,” she said. “It’s the reason that we’re underrepresented in STEM, it’s the reason that we’re underrepresented in tech, it’s the reason that we’re underrepresented in business. Society, as this structure, pushes women into certain fields, and it actually is exemplified in not only what you see in business school percentages right now, but also business representatives, the number of female CEOs there are, the number of females in exec[utive] positions.”
She added that, in her experience, she has been one of very few women venturing into the business world.
“I’ve been to Harvard’s business school, MIT’s business school, Columbia’s business school, NYU’s business school—I barely ever see women,” Oladapo said. “Even when I went to a few company-recruiting things, I was the only woman of color, and then there were maybe two other women. It’s a big issue, but it’s not like this club is here to fix that problem in the world. We’re here to make sure the people at Wesleyan who want to do it don’t get discouraged.”
Assistant Professor of Economics Abigail Hornstein, who advises the Wesleyan Investment Group (WIG), another business-focused student group on campus, recently invited Wesleyan Women in Business to compete against WIG to represent the University in a corporate valuation challenge. She shared Oladapo and Feldman-Piltch’s perception that the world of business and economics are male-dominated.
“The econ major is truly skewed male,” Hornstein said. “The faculty are very aware of this. I don’t think anyone wants it to be a skewed department, but there’s a debate about how we can remediate that fact. It’s something everyone is very aware of.”
Hornstein is also helping to organize an upcoming conference on corporate growth, to be held at the University on Saturday, Nov. 9. The conference will feature many female alumnae speaking about their experiences in business and finance.
“Four of my six confirmed speakers are female, which blew my mind,” she said. “Part of why we tried to target a female speaker is that when a lot of our students think about starting up a company, their role models are the people you read about in the newspaper, and the people we read about in the newspaper and the people found in these really giant firms do tend to be men. It’s nice for our students to see that anyone can do it—it’s just a matter of having the grit, the vision, and being able to weather hard times early on.”
Having these sorts of female mentors, Hornstein believes, is critical.
“It’s hard to feel confident sometimes if you don’t have role models,” she said. “In corporate America, we have a lot of women who are entering the workforce, we have a lot of women who hit the middle bracket, but we don’t have as many women making it all the way to the top, and the women who make it all the way to the top are oftentimes brought in when the men fail. That sends a very discouraging signal to a lot of our women. It’s hard sometimes to keep going and be motivated and put in those extra hours.”
This sentiment of discouragement, Feldman-Piltch noted, has trickled down into her experiences in economics classes at the University and was part of her inspiration to create this coalition of women interested in careers in business.
“I was constantly feeling like I was very alone in my classes and not being taken seriously, several times by professors and also by other students,” she said. “I Tweeted once, kind of recently, ‘I think I’m losing my edge if I’m not laughed at at least once in econ class,’ which is totally accurate. You can be upset by that, you can ignore it, or you can do something about it.”
10/8/13: A former version of this article incorrectly identified one of the group’s creators as Margaret Feldman-Piltch. Her legal name is Maggie Caroline Feldman-Piltch.