Women of Isenberg 2019: Student-Organized Conference Focuses on “More Than” Campaign
March 25, 2019
Keynote speaker Diane Isenberg started off the sixth annual Women of Isenberg conference on February 23 joking about how odd it feels to be surrounded by her own name when she visits campus. “It’s affixed to your school building, the conference materials, shirts, hats, UMass blankets,” she told the audience of 440 students and alumnae, before explaining how she has had to convince colleagues and potential partners that she is more than just the daughter of businessman and philanthropist Eugene Isenberg, whose name graces the School of Management.
When Gene died five years ago, Diane became the custodian of his considerable estate, despite not having spent her career up to that point working in business or finance. “I didn’t follow directly in my father’s footsteps,” she said. Instead, she earned a master’s degree in public health, worked on family planning and maternal health initiatives in Bangladesh, and spent many years helping manage a sheep farm in rural Wales. When she decided to focus on investing her family’s wealth through the firm she founded, Ceniarth, with the goal of funding solutions that benefit marginalized communities, she was stunned by the sexism and dismissive attitudes she ran into.
“I found that the finance world preys on people—women in particular—who lack business acumen,” she told the crowd, explaining how she had been told by an impact investment firm she considered partnering with to leave all the thinking to them: “One of them had the audacity to condescendingly tell me that they could take care of everything so that I might have plenty of time to work in my garden.” Needless to say, Isenberg did not take them up on that offer, but instead put together a team that was willing to work toward her vision collaboratively.
Isenberg didn’t downplay her father’s legacy in leading her to her socially progressive financial outlook. “My childhood was shaped by my father’s relentless ambition to succeed,” she recalled. “He never forgot his humble origins. To him, every dollar mattered.” Ceniarth’s focus on small-owner international agricultural development projects reflects this appreciation for businesses with concrete products and outcomes.
The keynote kicked off a full day of panel discussions, networking opportunities, and workshops organized by Isenberg students around the theme of More Than, encouraging attendees to look beyond surface-level identities.
The conference resonated with a spirit of diversity and inclusion, noted sophomore sport management and communications major Trinity Lynn Monteiro. Those values, she emphasized, “went beyond gender and race. And it included women and groups from beyond Isenberg.” As the first Diversity and Inclusion chair in the event’s six-year history, Trinity had a great deal to do with that. One of the conference’s many improvements, she continued, was its more diverse, accommodating definition of “professional dress.”
Other attendees appreciated the solid advice and helpful networking: “The event opened my eyes to a wealth of professional possibilities,” observed third-year accounting major Stacey Muanya. I met women with job titles that I had never heard of.” Stacey found exceptional value in a workshop devoted to international travel, which emphasized appreciation of diverse cultures and pragmatic travel tips. “As an accounting major, those topics are important to me because auditors travel a great deal,” she remarked.
“The event was a real confidence builder,” noted senior Operations and Information Management (OIM) major Camille Mihalchik. “I learned valuable things from an HR rep and Isenberg graduates. At the data analytics panel, I learned how companies in different industries use data differently.”
The conference was “empowering,” emphasized sophomore marketing major Jessica Havican. “Meeting so many confident, accomplished women professionals has helped me “to better put myself out there.” For her, a valued experience was the conference’s public speaking workshop, which covered everything from eye contact and posture to constructive channeling of nervousness. “The workshop helped me to get out of my comfort zone,” she said.
“It was very impactful,” recalled sophomore accounting major Cassie Raffi. “Connecting with alumnae and other professionals who shared their expertise and advice—that was genuinely useful.” Cassie gave high points to the panel, What to Do When Your Briefcase Is Too Full. When a task becomes overbearing, it’s sometimes important to say “no,” she observed. That’s especially so, she said, when one’s work-life balance is at stake.
The alumnae were so poised and confident,” recalled sophomore OIM major Margaret Richardson. That included career advice in the panel, Oh the Places You Will Go. During their careers, the panelists experienced layoffs, but they all bounced back with resilience and grit. “It was truly inspiring.”
Third-year OIM major Chau Le, said, “I’m headed toward a career in IT, so I appreciated the Data Analytics panel, which showed very different data applications in different industries. It illustrated that data and technology are everywhere.” Le also found Diane Isenberg’s speech inspirational, because she successfully navigated major professional and personal changes.