Sold-Out Crowd Expected at Women in Leadership Conference, March 14

When organizers of the Women in Leadership Conference began planning this year’s event, the impact of empowering the next generation of women felt tangible. Some of the organizers are in the Full-time MBA Class of 2015, whose work with admissions helped boost the percentage of women in the Class of 2016 to 43 percent. Energized by their record-breaking class, the first-year students are building on that work in what they are calling the Haas Gender Equity Initiative.

WIL organizers 2015

The 2015 Women in Leadership Conference organizers

The conference theme, “Empower Me: Invest in All,” reflects those experiences, says Co-chair Carmela Aquino, MBA 15. “This came about exactly because we were seeing the momentum at Haas around these ideas,” she says. “We wanted this year to embody the positive drive we were seeing, so attendees walk away feeling empowered to go beyond themselves in their respective paths and do more to help other women aspiring to leadership.”

The 19th annual conference, organized by the Women in Leadership club, is expected to attract more than 500 business leaders and students to the Haas School from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Sat, March 14. Click here to learn more .

The primary goals of the conference are to help women gain concrete skills for advancing in their own careers, connect with others, and get inspired, says Co-Chair Libby Hadzima Perkins, JD/MBA 15. But that’s not to say it’s geared exclusively toward women. In fact, “manbassadors”—as the male student actively involved in gender equity are calling themselves—have been key.

“Without the support of men in the workplace, there is only so much we can do to help promote more gender-equitable outcomes,” Hadzima Perkins says. “That’s why we wanted our theme to focus on the benefit that investing in women lifts everyone up, and provides a benefit to society as a whole.”

Conference Highlights

Keynotes: The morning will kick off with Ann O’Leary, Director of the Children & Families Program for Next Generation and former Legislative Director to Hillary Clinton, in conversation with Prof. Laura Tyson. In the afternoon, Donna Morris, Sr. Vice President, Global People and Places for Adobe will be introduced by Asst. Prof. Kellie McElhaney to close out the conference.

Leadership Stories: For the lunchtime session, attendees will get “an intimate look into the cycle of confidence and failure in leadership” from four leaders in diverse fields.

Invest in All Alley: This new addition to the conference is a space for companies, organizations, and entrepreneurs to exhibit their products or services, to showcase their dedication to gender equality, and to raise their brand awareness.

Panels will focus on tangible skills, from mastering difficult conversations in the workplace to taking control of finances for the future.

Student Spotlight: Nikita Mitchell, Full-Time MBA Class of 2015 President & Diversity Leader

Nikita Professional optionIt was the scariest thing she could think of doing as a new MBA student.

When Nikita Mitchell arrived at Haas in the fall of 2013, her top goal was to develop her leadership skills—which she knew would require stepping outside her comfort zone. So instead of heading up a club or organizing a conference, she decided to run for class president.

“I’ve never been in a big public role. I’ve never had to be the face of something, and the idea was terrifying,” says Nikita, MBA 15. “Ultimately, I decided I should do it because I didn’t have anything to lose.”

A few months into her first semester at Haas she was elected, and in 2014 she served as the first African-American woman to head the MBA Association. She also served simultaneously as a liaison to the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which works to bring more under-represented minorities into top MBA programs. Along with co-liaisons Kory Vargas-Caro and Dan Wong, both MBA 15, she led the Haas group to win the Consortium’s highest honor and $10K to build on their work.

Just after passing the mantle to the 2015 MBAA President Dan Fishman, Nikita spoke with us about her leadership style, her accomplishments, and what she learned.


Nikita and Kory Vargas-Caro, MBA 15, celebrate winning the T.E.A.M. (Together Everyone Achieves More) trophy from The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management in June 2014. Not shown: Dan Wong, MBA 15

Team spirit

“I’ve grown a lot,” she says. “Most importantly–both personally and professionally—I’ve also learned how to ask for help when I need it.”

Nikita is up front about the fact that balancing outside leadership activities with the rigorous academic demands of the MBA was the biggest challenge she’s faced. During her first semester as president, she took on some big issues for the program, including how to make changes in the academic culture.

She credits the support of her classmates, and former MBAA President Stephanie White, for going out of their way to support her. “It was really incredible what people did to help me, often without even being asked.”

Her approach to managing it all was to build a strong team.

“I feel I created a high functioning team where everyone has been able to accomplish a lot in their own roles,” she says. “And I feel like I’ve been a strong voice for students.”

With the Berkeley MBA members of The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, Classes of 2015 and 2016

With the Berkeley MBA members of The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, Classes of 2015 and 2016

Making choices

As a natural collaborator, she knew being at the top of an organization would sometimes mean making tough calls.

“Being at the point of making a decision, where you know not everyone is going to be happy, was the biggest development area for me,” she says. “I think my biggest lesson was the realization that being in a leadership role among my peers wouldn’t harm my friendships. In fact, the relationships I built fueled my leadership.”

Though Nikita says the experience underscored how critical it is to not go at decision-making alone, she also learned that sometimes people don’t want to have input.

“That’s part of leadership too—knowing when people want to be brought to the table,” she says. “It started to become more instinctual toward the end.”

On a student trek to Morocco, spring break 2014

On a student trek to Morocco, spring break 2014

The importance of community

As the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, Nikita is proud that she was the first African-American woman to serve as Full-time MBA class president—and it was important to her family in the tight-knit community around Howard University where she grew up.

Her father came from Trinidad on a soccer scholarship to Howard, and her mother immigrated from Barbados. They met in the 1980s at Howard, where both worked as accountants. Nikita and all four of her sisters earned their bachelor’s degrees at Howard as well.

After graduation, she landed a position at Deloitte Consulting. She later earned a fellowship through ProInspire, which matches young professionals with nonprofits, as she explored careers in social impact.

She applied to MBA programs through the Consortium, which offers full scholarships to students who get into their top-ranked school. At the last minute, she ranked the University of Michigan’s Ross first, which has a large and active minority population. But in a twist of fate, she visited Haas during the Women in Leadership conference weekend, and knew it was the right place for her.

“I was so surprised by how right the culture felt. The warmth was there. The connections I made with people felt authentic,” she says. “I felt included immediately, and I thought ‘that’s somewhere I’ll continue to grow.”

As she looks toward graduation in May, Nikita summed up her biggest takeaway:

“What this leadership experience taught me is that I like to run things,” she says.

No doubt she will.

Update, March18: Nikita has accepted a job as Chief of Staff for Cisco Consulting Services.

Infographic: Berkeley MBA Class of 2016 Leads on Women, International Students

Thanks to mbaMission for this at-a-glance comparison of class profiles for the 10 top full-time MBA programs (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report).

It’s nice to see it laid out so beautifully. Not only does the Full-time Berkeley MBA Class of 2016 have the largest percentage of women, but it’s the most diverse overall, and has the second highest percentage of international students.

We also have the smallest class size among the Top 10 (MIT Sloan has about 350 students in each class, though it’s listed below Haas in the infographic). In sum: At Haas, you’re going to school with an incredible variety of classmates from throughout the world, and you have the chance to really get to know them!


43% Strong: A First-Year Student Perspective (Part 2)

In Part 2 of a series on gender balance, guest blogger Ryann Kopacka, MBA 16, describes what it’s been like for her so far in a class with 43% women. Next up: a male student shares his perspective on gender balance at Haas. 

Women In Leadership Retreat_Small GroupBy Ryann Kopacka, MBA 16

I attended an undergraduate engineering program with less than 30% women. I was often the only woman on project teams and even in the classroom.

Now, I am fortunate to attend classes where almost every other seat is occupied by a female classmate, and I work through group cases with female voices at the table.

In just my first few weeks at Haas, I feel a noticeable difference in our class dynamics compared to my previous college experiences. My Haas female peers are more vocal during classroom discussions and are becoming a driving force in the student community—over half of our recently elected cohort representatives are women.

Coming into Haas, I was sometimes uncomfortable sharing my thoughts about controversial topics, especially about gender equality and women in business. However, being among this larger group of women has accelerated my personal development. I am already more confident speaking up when I would have remained quiet, more assured in sharing my opinion when I would have kept it to myself, and more assertive in seeking leadership opportunities that I otherwise would not have considered. I feel a strong support system building among the women in my class, and I can only imagine how we will continue to grow as we progress through the program.

This community of women offers a diverse set of skills, experiences, and perspectives that we can all leverage. For instance, when I am practicing being a more assertive leader, I know I can ask for constructive feedback from my classmate Mor Goldberger, who managed a team of 16 people (14 of them men) working on economic development in post-earthquake Haiti. When I am negotiating a salary, I know that I can depend on coaching from classmates KC Simon and Sonya Hetrick, who achieved the highest results during an in-class negotiation simulation.

Ryann (2nd from left) and classmates with Haas alumna and Citibank CEO Barbara Desoer, MBA 77. Desoer spoke at the Forte Foundation Annual MBA Women's Leadership Conference this summer.

Ryann (2nd from left) and classmates with Haas alumna and Citibank CEO Barbara Desoer, MBA 77. Desoer spoke at the Forte Foundation Annual MBA Women’s Leadership Conference this summer.

When I have questions about managing a career and personal life, I know that I have a large community of like-minded women to ask for advice.

I am also supported by more formal resources. The Women in Leadership (WIL) Club provides skills workshops tailored for women, facilitates networking events to connect members with women alumnae, and organizes mixers to build a stronger community among women AND MEN—who are also engaged members of WIL. I am especially excited to be part of Professor Kellie McElhaney’s course, The Business Case for Investing in Women.

Ryann and classmates climbing Half Dome on an MBA camping trip last weekend.

Ryann and classmates climbing Half Dome on an MBA camping trip last weekend.

As I become armed with this knowledge and these skills, I feel an increased sense of responsibility to be a leader in the movement toward gender equality.

Haas is in a unique position as the Class of 2016, 43-percent-women strong, begins the Full-time MBA program. We should celebrate this achievement, but understand that we are not done. We as the Haas community have a responsibility to invest in women, to continue to develop a culture that welcomes and supports women, and to be leaders in achieving gender equality.

It is my hope that when women and men graduate from Haas, we are all equipped and driven to establish gender equality within our future organizations. I look forward to a world where 43% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women—and why stop there?!

Summit celebration

Summit celebration

Ryann1_sizedRyann Kopacka is a member of the Full-Time Berkeley MBA Class of 2016. From Atlanta, Georgia, Ryann worked as a consultant in Deloitte Consulting’s Strategy and Operations practice, focusing on supply chain operations and analytics. She also worked as a marketing intern at Osmo Nutrition, a sports nutrition startup company with a line of products specifically formulated for women. Ryann earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Industrial Engineering at Georgia Tech, where she competed on the Varsity Swim Team and held three school records. Now a member of Team USA, Ryann recently competed at the 2014 World Triathlon Championship held in Edmonton, Canada.

Part of the 43%: A First-Year Student Perspective (Part 1)

In this first part of a three-part series on gender balance at Haas, guest blogger Ryann Kopacka, MBA 16, shares her experiences as a new admit to the Full-Time Berkeley MBA Program. Coming Monday: Ryann writes about what it’s been like during her first few weeks of classes. In Part 3, a male student will share his perspective on gender balance at Haas. 

Women In Leadership Retreat_Big Group_sized

Group photo at the Women in Leadership retreat in September

There is something different about Haas this school year.

It is not the hum of construction for the new building, nor is it the addition of sushi in the café.

There are more WOMEN!

The incoming Full-Time Berkeley MBA Class of 2016 boasts 43% women, the highest in the business school’s history and the highest reported among its peers. I am even more impressed by the leap of 14 percentage points from the previous class, and the increase in average GMAT score. I am proud to be member of the Class of 2016.

After I received an exciting phone call earlier this year from Assistant Dean Stephanie Fujii offering me admission, the Haas community continued to reach out to me. Erin Kellerhals, now executive director of FTMBA Admissions, called to welcome me to Haas and offered a listening ear at any time. I also got a call from fellow-East-Coaster Akilah Huguley, MBA 15 and vice president of admissions for her class, who asked if I had any questions or concerns about moving west.

When I attended Days at Haas for new admits, Eliza Rosenbaum from the Class of 2014 spoke at the Women in Leadership breakfast about her decision to attend Haas. Eliza was open about her experience moving from her home in New York to Berkeley. I felt like she was talking right to me. And though I didn’t know at the time, I was also sitting next to my future roommate.

The common thread in these touchpoints was that the Haas community of women was genuinely interested in getting to know me, and in helping me gather the information I needed to make my decision. I am thankful for the dedication of current students and the admissions office. These efforts demonstrate how members of the Haas community go beyond themselves to make a difference to others, and to ensure that school’s gender balance matches its culture and values.

Ryann, 2nd from right, and new classmates at orientation week

Ryann, 2nd from right, and new classmates at orientation week

I ultimately chose Haas because I believe it offers me the most holistic education, especially in providing diverse perspectives, ideas, and experiences. The Defining Principles resonated with me before I came, and so far have been prevalent in my interactions on campus. I am most impressed with the confidence among the Haas community, interlaced with an openness to new ideas and a concern about the well-being of others. My classmate Ashley Lohmann embodies this principle: she previously worked on Middle Eastern security policy and is now launching her own company to help social impact organizations in the Middle East share stories that we do not see on the news.

I feel that my classmates are encouraging me to question what society considers to be commonplace and to support me in making changes and finding solutions.

Stay tuned for my next post on my experiences at Haas so far!


Ryann crosses the finish line at the 2014 World Triathlon Championship

Ryann Kopacka is a member of the Full-Time Berkeley MBA Class of 2016. From Atlanta, Georgia, Ryann worked as a consultant in Deloitte Consulting’s Strategy and Operations practice, focusing on supply chain operations and analytics. She also worked as a marketing intern at Osmo Nutrition, a sports nutrition startup company with a line of products specifically formulated for women. Ryann earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Industrial Engineering at Georgia Tech, where she competed on the Varsity Swim Team and held three school records. Now a member of Team USA, Ryann recently competed at the 2014 World Triathlon Championship held in Edmonton, Canada.

Designing Women: Leadership Conference [re]Frames the Conversation

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


This year Berkeley MBA students brought the design-thinking skills they gained at Haas to hundreds of women from around the Bay Area who attended the annual Women in Leadership Conference. We interviewed Stephanie Curran, MBA 14, who co-chaired the conference with Lauren Fernandez, also MBA 14, about how they came up with the conference’s theme, “Design Your Future,” and their decision to focus on design thinking as they planned the conference.

What has been your experience with design thinking at Haas, and why you were inspired to share that through the conference theme?

I was first introduced to design thinking at a case competition shortly after I started school. We used “divergent” thinking to brainstorm the feelings one has when buying cell phones, which led us to create a story around the anxiety our proposed consumer segment goes through when purchasing a new cell phone for themselves and their family members. The Haas team was the only team that took this emotional approach, and the judges were incredibly impressed by our depth of consumer insight, ultimately declaring us winners of the competition. Soon after, I took the core MBA class Problem Finding, Problem Solving, where design-thinking tools were further explored and I was able to expand on my previous experience.

After that, I was sold on the power of design thinking and  began to apply it to projects I worked on for Berkeley Board Fellows, IBD, and elsewhere, always with success.

How did you end up applying design thinking to planning the Women in Leadership Conference?

Lauren and I actually used this diverging brainstorming activity as we were trying to come up with themes for the WIL Conference. We highlighted six topics that were trending and then spent two hours post-it note brainstorming to think about all the different things that fell into these topics. “Design Your Future” was one of the results, and we both felt strongly that exposing people to tools of design thinking and how they can apply to your life both professionally and personally was incredibly important.

Did this lead to any changes to the conference from previous years?

As the conference planning began to take place we used the theme to structure both the panels and interactive workshops. The panels had been traditionally industry focused and we decided to switch them to a functional focus. We wanted to give attendees a broad overview of all the different roles that can fall under one function like marketing, consulting or finance. This way if one worked or aspired to work in marketing, they could get a better idea of what “marketing” means across different industries in one panel.

The afternoon workshops focused on teaching attendees specific tools that are key to design thinking, whether it be reframing problems or learning how to tell stories. We wanted to ensure that at the end of the day attendees would be able to walk away with a “toolkit” around how to “Design their Future” going forward.

Did you do anything else differently?

On the day of the conference, we also conducted an interactive design thinking whiteboard activity designed by our classmate Lindsey Schatzberg, also MBA 14. In the morning, attendees were challenged to think about some opportunities they were facing in life, both personally and professionally. These opportunities were aggregated into four distinct themes around lunchtime and the afternoon then focused on attendees providing solutions and thoughts focused around these themes.

This activity was incredibly important because for most attendees this was their first exposure to design thinking and it allowed them to see the entire solutions based process of design thinking come to life.

What were key takeaways for you from the conference?

We received incredible feedback both at the conference and after on the keynotes, panels, workshops and everything in between. It was extremely rewarding for both Lauren and me to see a year of hard work play out and go off without a hitch. I know we are both so thrilled to have been a part of such a wonderful experience and that we had an amazing team to work with. The other ladies on the Women in Leadership board were incredibly instrumental in making this conference come to fruition.

Five Things: Women in Leadership (WIL) Conference

Keynote speaker Heidi Roizen

Keynote speaker Heidi Roizen

1. Leadership: Co-chairs Ruth Duggan and Jane Wong, both MBA 13.

2. The mix: Among the more than 400 attendees was a nine-year-old, who asked speaker Heidi Roizen, venture partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, “How do you get better at your job?”

3. Themes: What paths are you driven to bend? Is dreaming big and being a leader selfish?

4. Inspiration: Amanda Pouchot, founder of Levo League, an online community of professional women, challenged the audience to “ask for more” on Equal Pay Day (which was April 9), and Roizen shared war stories from the male-dominated VC world of the 1980’s, then inspired the audience by sharing how she negotiated a four-fold increase in compensation.

5. Perspective: “Today gave me a lot to think about.”–comment from male attendee.