Second-year Wharton | San Francisco EMBA student Yingying Huang holds a PhD in Chemistry and is strategic marketing manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific in San Jose, CA. She recently attended a Wharton women’s event featuring alumna Beth Axelrod, W’84, senior vice president of human resources at eBay. We asked her to tell us about the event.
Wharton’s EMBA program emphasizes its outreach to strong female candidates and creates a supportive environment for women in the program. At Wharton | San Francisco, we have a club called Women of Wharton (WOW) as well as women’s networking events throughout the year. I attended one of these networking events this month, which featured Wharton undergraduate alumna Beth Axelrod as the guest speaker. She is now the senior VP of human resources at eBay and an author, but previously worked at McKinsey. Many of my female classmates and I are in our 30s with families and careers so hearing about her career and life lessons was very inspiring.
Beth began by discussing the need for women to find their own voices and set boundaries. She explained how sometimes men don’t take women’s voices as seriously in a male-dominated corporate culture so we need to make ourselves heard. This, she said, is connected to setting boundaries. She gave an example from when she first joined a consulting firm: She received assignments every Friday that were due on Monday, yet none of the men on her team received these weekend assignments. She spoke up to set boundaries, asserting that this was not acceptable. We’re all capable and hard-working professionals, but we need to speak up to be heard.
Another topic was self-doubt. It was encouraging to hear how a successful woman in business overcame this. For Beth, it involved setting clear priorities that guide her decision-making. She recalled how she became pregnant at the same time that she was considered for partnership at her former firm. While many people questioned if that was the right time to start motherhood, she insisted that while the promotion was important, family came first. The day after her child was born, she received the promotion.
The topic of children led to a discussion of partners. She emphasized the importance of carefully choosing a life partner or spouse, as you need someone who can support your goals. For those of us in the EMBA program, this really resonated. We still have to take care of the kids, house, groceries, and laundry — and need time to work and study. It becomes very clear that you and your partner are on this journey together.
Beth also talked about self-motivation. She explained how it’s important to walk through doors once they are opened for you. In other words, if someone offers you an opportunity to move up, you have to be ready and able to walk into that new position whether it’s a sponsorship for an EMBA program or a promotion. No one else can do the work for you. You need to be motivated for success.
As people lined up to talk to Beth after her talk and Q&A, we also networked with each other. Most of the women in attendance were current and past Wharton MBA and EMBA students as well as prospective students and friends. I brought a couple of women friends who wanted to learn more about Wharton and I met several prospective students, including a woman who had flown in just for this event from Newport Beach! All of the women I met that evening were very impressive.
Overall, it was a great evening that left me with a lot to think about. I’m already looking forward to future women’s networking events, especially if it means coming back to campus after graduation.