By Karen Nguyen
On Friday, February 26, 2016, Christine, Kim, and I traveled up to New York to attend the 5th Annual USWIB Conference: Unleash Your Aspirations, held at NYU Stern. The conference was aimed at helping undergraduate women explore potential careers in business, connect with professionals, and learn more about how to break into the industry.
The conference began with the first keynote speaker, Martha Beard, who currently serves as managing director at JP Morgan. As a woman with an executive position at a bulge bracket firm, Martha gave numerous tips and advice on how to be successful as a woman in a male dominated environment such as not apologizing, being fully present in the moment, and standing your ground when you need to.
After Martha Beard’s inspirational speech, we went to the respective breakout sessions we had signed up for prior to the conference. The first set of breakout sessions were: Faces in Finance, Modern Marketing, The Business of Media, and Pitch Perfect. The second set of breakout sessions were: Consulting Uncovered, Insights from the C-Suite, Future in Fashion, and Entrepreneurship: For Women, By Women.
The session from the first round that I chose to attend was “Pitch Perfect” which was a workshop held by two career consultants, Lauren McGoodwin and Jaime Petkanics. The workshop was aimed at helping attendees develop their own personal, thirty second to one minute elevator pitch as well as curating their personal brand through the strategic use of tools such as LinkedIn, sending networking emails that guarantee a reply back, and writing a successful cover letter.
After Pitch Perfect, I attended the “Entrepreneurship: For Women, By Women” session, which was a panel of three successful women who had started their own firms after recognizing a market gap in a certain industry. The panelist who I found to be most impressive was Cynthia Salim who worked as a consultant at McKinsey before starting her own firm, Citizen’s Mark, which produces beautifully cut and professional suits for women in an ethical manner. She was eloquent, carried herself extremely well, and emphasized the importance of working in either consulting or finance before delving into an entrepreneurship.
Towards the end of the conference was the networking portion, which I saw as the most and crucial aspect. Both bulge-bracket firms like Goldman Sachs and Citi made a presence as well as smaller, elite boutique investment banks such as Guggenheim and There were two sessions: a coffee talk in which you talked to employees at the firm and learned more about the corporate culture, what sort of work you’d expect to receive at the firm, etc. The second portion was a more formal networking process in which firms set up tables in a large conference room and you had a chance to speak to recruiters, put your name down on their mailing lists, and essentially get your name out there. Since firms in the financial services industry don’t come to Swarthmore, it’s difficult to get your name out there to recruiters. As a result, I would highly recommend going to an undergraduate business conference for the networking opportunity alone. It was also an ace opportunity to receive some free swag from firms.
Most of the attendees of the conference were from NYU Stern but I also met undergraduate women from Virginia Tech and the University of Rhode Island. Needless to say, Swarthmore was the only liberal arts college represented at the conference. Compared to Swarthmore students, women at larger institutions with business schools definitely had the upper hand when it comes to networking, technical knowledge about finance, and navigating the recruitment process for internships in finance. However, after attending the conference, I realized that Swarthmore students have just as much of a chance to succeed as women at Stern do if we take advantages of opportunities available to us, like this conference.
All in all, although the conference didn’t focus solely on careers in finance, the other careers in business presented such as entrepreneurship, fashion, and media offered me a chance to be able to explore what other options are available to me should I choose not to leave the financial services industry after working there for a while.