Speaking to Simmons Women

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I graduated from Simmons College, an all-womens school in Boston many moons ago.  I went to Simmons for a handful of reasons but the main one is that the school is focused on careers.  I knew that when I walked out the door, I would have a job and trust me nobody else was going to be paying my bills.  

Socially I didn't love the school.  I loved freshman year and truly lost psych on the women I met as time went on.  When I went abroad for my Junior year, I came back with a different head.  This past Friday night, I spoke to a group of Simmons women who were sophomores, seniors, recently graduated and older alumnae to discuss my long off the beaten track career and my time at Simmons. 

I haven't been in a room of women like that for years.  Janet Buyers Russo, who sits on the board of Simmons, interviewed me.  Four short questions and then we opened it up to the audience which I really like.  We talked about risks I have taken, recognizing opportunities and mentoring other women. 

She asked me if my experience of going to an all-womens college influenced my perspective and choices in life.  In all fairness, she sent me the questions in advance so I had some time to ponder.  This particular one was the one I thought about the most.  I spoke to my friend about it and she wasn't so sure that the circumstances of all women made that much of an impact at the college level.  Did being in that environment make me a better negotiator, give me sharper elbows, make me be indifferent to the other men who I was competing against as I went forward in my career or just be fiercer.  I also had that conversation with someone who came earlier in the week to interview me for a book she is writing about women who have broken the glass ceiling.  She is finding that there is a constant among many of those women and it starts at a young age. 

I answered that I did believe there is something about competing all day long in a classroom with only women and that is certainly special and rare yet the truth is I think I have always been the way I am and maybe that part of my path confirmed the way I operate.   

The favorite take away was this.  The kids that were still in college wanted to know about how they perhaps get into the start-up industry or even the importance of getting jobs in the field that they majored in.  I said that going to college is about expanding your mind, forcing you to look at things differently, having an amazing experience and meeting a lot of different people so regardless of what you have majored in, it is not imperative that they find a job in that field unless they are set on it.  Jane, who had interviewed me, asked the question to all the alums…there were probably 25 of them there if not more…lets see a show of hands on how many of you are not in the same field that you started out in after college?  I kid you not, almost every single alum raised their hand.  So there you have it, there were some amazing women in that room and it is all about the road we travel as the dots always just seem to connect. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. Carol Sacks

    I couldn’t agree more! I look back on my career that began in NYC at a fashion magazine, my move to Silicon Valley in the mid-80s and my shift in focus to venture capital/start ups several years ago, and even if the line connecting them isn’t straight, every job, every experience accrued to a greater whole. Skills, judgement and a network. I so enjoy your posts, Joanne!

    1. Gotham Gal

      thanks Carol.

  2. pixiedust8

    I think your take on what college is about is completely accurate. I wish more people still looked at it that way instead of about the ROI based on the job they’ll get after college. Unfortunately, I think that attitude is now prevalent because of the somewhat astounding cost of college.

    1. Gotham Gal

      It wasn’t cheap when I went either. It is all relative to the cost of the times. I really believe that college, at some level, be it 2 years or 4 is a great experience as part of that time of your life when you are becoming an adult. Particularly in this country….adulthood comes later.

      1. pixiedust8

        I agree with you that it’s always been (relatively) expensive, but the cost has really skyrocketed exponentially in the past 20-25 years. Twenty years ago, my state school cost $5k with room/board and everything (I know because I had grants and paid the rest myself). Now it’s $20k for everything. I would never be able to put myself through school now, even working during the year and working two jobs in the summer (which I did).But I agree with your points.

  3. Sharongarlitzkelly

    Joanne, you echo my thoughts exactly—I am so glad for my Simmons experience; and of course I would not have met you or Jenny otherwise!

    1. Gotham Gal

      Who knew you read my blog. 🙂

  4. Amrit Judge

    This is great! I attend Sweet Briar, a small women’s liberal arts college in Southern Virginia. Explaining the relevancy and the need for women’s institutions in today’s day and age is something that comes up over and over again. Women in the startup world is a hot topic and I’m really excited to utilize my all female education to be at the forefront of this movement.