Panel discusses unity of women in business

Panel discusses unity of women in business

October 28, 2016

Five successful Brandeis alumnae and faculty discussed their notable careers in business and their accomplishments in male-dominated industries in a panel on Thursday, Oct. 27.

On the panel was Anne Carter, professor emerita of economics at Brandeis and a specialist in technical change and technology transfer. Carter received both her Ph.D. and master’s degree from Harvard University. She was the first woman to be appointed to the economics faculty at Harvard and the first female tenured professor in Brandeis’ economics department.

Next to her was Amy Kessler ’89, senior vice president and leader of Longevity Risk Transfer and Prudential Financial. Kessler was recognized in 2014 by Risk Magazine as closing the Deal of the Year in the largest scale longevity risk transfer transaction at the company. Kessler has closed over $40 billion in international reinsurance transactions throughout her career.

Panelist Lisa Lynch, a professor of social and economic policy, as well as provost and chief academic officer of Brandeis, brings experience from the U.S. Department of Labor where she was a chief economist. She also held positions at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Last on the panel was Lan Xue ’90, a previous department head of the China research teams at Citigroup and Merrill Lynch. She was ranked one of the top three China analysts by Global Institutional Investors for over 15 years. Xue is a founding partner at Trivest Advisors and assists in managing a $1 billion China-focused hedge fund.

There was a common theme of unity and “pulling together,” as Lynch put it, throughout the panel. “You can do more than when you’re just a party of one,” Lynch said. Kessler agreed with this sentiment.

“Women are very, very good at collaborating,” she said. “Women are very, very good at bringing people together around the audacious path of building or of doing something new.”

The panelists also discussed what it took for women to become successful in their companies and organizations. Moderator Cathy Minehan, former president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, stressed the importance of distinguishing oneself and being seen as more than just an efficient worker.

“I think the step from sort of being the person who is a real contributor to the person who is a leader is a major gulf for anyone, male or female,” Minehan said. Kessler agreed.

“You need to be the person that if they put the football in your hands, you don’t drop it,” Kessler said.

Lynch reflected on her time as interim president of the university in the last academic year. When an organization or school needs someone to fill an interim position, a process of change occurs, according to Lynch.

“How you manage through that change, how you are viewed as both being the leader of that organization but having legitimacy to actually make decisions that actually go beyond the current day activities, is really kind of a challenge,” she said.

Xue gave a cultural comparison of how women in the workplace are viewed in China. Her company created a survey in China to gauge what husbands thought of wives who worked, versus wives who stayed home. “A lot of the male spouses actually want their wives to work,” she noted.

When Xue and her company explored why this opinion was so popular among some men, she said that many responded, “Having, actually, a working wife [gives] us more ways to take on risk in our own jobs, because you actually have some more financial stability at home, so we can actually achieve more in our career advancement.”

Carter ended the event with an anecdote about Abram Sachar, Brandeis’ first president, who once refused to hire a successful woman to the economics department. When Carter questioned his decision, Carter said that Sachar responded by making a comment on the economist’s appearance. Carter concluded, “I guess what I’m saying is, we’ve come a long way, baby.”

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