“Don’t define yourself as a woman, define yourself with your talent.”
So said Diana Zimmerman, chief executive officer, president and creative director of CMS Communications, at Wharton Women’s largest event of the year last Friday.
The 6th annual Wharton Women Business Conference, held at the Inn at Penn, featured some of the most successful women in business as guest speakers and panelists.
This year, the conference witnessed a record-breaking number of registrants, according to Wharton Women president and Wharton junior Allegra Margolis.
The conference united the voices of businesswomen such as Executive Vice President of the Walt Disney Company Christine McCarthy and 1984 Wharton graduate Beth Axelrod, senior vice president of human resources at eBay Inc., in the delivery of a profound message touching upon their personal struggles and successes.
The conference also featured a panel including Zimmerman, Jen Baxter, vice president of research and development at GlaxoSmithKline, Andrea Coville, CEO of Brodeur Partners and 2007 Wharton graduate Erica Dhawan, a globally recognized leadership expert. In addition, Kay Krill, CEO of Ann Taylor, also delivered a speech.
McCarthy, one of the keynote speakers, highlighted the ups and downs of her life and career in an hour-long speech, in which she wasn’t hesitant to share the most intimate details of her personal and professional lives.
“To say I had a rough freshman year in college is an understatement,” she said. She then went on to recount how during that year she “promptly gained 15 pounds, had a feeble suicide attempt and then became severely anorexic.” She was even diagnosed with early stage cervical cancer that summer.
With equal sincerity, McCarthy told the audience about her experiences with the financial industry, and how she managed to become a wife and mother at 37 when people thought that her “probability of getting married was less than her probability of getting hit by lightning.”
Throughout her speech, McCarthy gave the aspiring businesswomen in the audience lessons on how to overcome the challenges of being a corporate professional. She urged the young women to seek help when necessary, stating that “help is not a dirty word.” When speaking of her various battles with cancer, she advised them to not “become a victim” of similar life circumstances.
Following McCarthy, Axelrod shared her own experiences as a professional woman, wife and mother. Choosing to join the dominantly male banking industry in 1984 upon her graduation from Wharton, Axelrod was faced with challenges from day one. Through a shocking anecdote — she was mistaken as a secretary at the investment bank where she first worked — the audience discovered her determination to stand out as a woman in any professional setting.
In a one-on-one discussion, Axelrod said the Wharton Women Business Conference is “ a very important and powerful forum for women to exchange ideas and to learn from others who are further along in their career around success, leadership, and life.”
Near the very end, many attendees clamored to speak to the motivating panelists in what Wharton senior Jackie Bennett, the conference organizer, described as a “highly approachable conference.”
Wharton and College sophomores Sue Lyn Stubbs and Nadia Tareen agreed about the easy-going atmosphere.
“If you do have to network,” Stubbs said, “they seem a lot more receptive than other speakers that I have heard.”