This is the second article of the Gender Equality Series. If you haven’t seen our first one, check it out here!
This week, The Walnut Street Journal met with Victoria Yuan, a co-director of Wharton Women Allies, which is Wharton Women’s new initiative aimed at bringing men into the conversation about gender equality. We spoke with her about the club, its future, and gender inequality in the workplace.
WW: What was the inspiration behind starting Wharton Women Allies?
Victoria: So I actually discussed the topic with the Wharton Women President, Audrey Goldberg, and we asked ourselves “Why do we need a special organization to get us to the same level as the guys?” We realized that to change things we needed to get to the root of the problem: inequality in the workplace. For example, where I interned last summer, three quarters of the employees were men. It’s not just about discrimination, but also about different communication styles across genders, different interests, etc. We therefore started to think about how to address this and what everyone can do to help. First of all, we need to get men involved, because in order to solve this challenge, everyone needs to be receptive. Second, we need to promote real change to show why we need Wharton Women Allies as an organization.
WW: What steps did you take to get the club off the ground?
Victoria: The club first started with five people, two of whom were men. We were really looking for male advocates and made sure to promote that our club was for all genders. Our first event, “Lean-In Circles”, is coming up this weekend and we hope to see many students there with us. In fact, we are trying to implement the buddy system where every girl brings one guy to the conversation! Moving forward, the topic of gender equality in the workplace is becoming increasingly salient, even in the Wharton curriculum. We were thinking of bringing in professors for 30-minute sessions to present academic research behind the issue. We are also looking for motivational figures who are outspoken about advocacy to demonstrate why you should get involved and care about the issue.
WW: What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Victoria: Well, we kind of hit rock bottom at the beginning of the semester—half of the club quit, so we had to recruit and remodel the club. Now we have a super dedicated group of 20 people, including freshmen, who each have their strengths. We have broken up into different committees: Marketing, Campus Affairs, and Speakers. Campus Affairs partners with other campus organizations, whereas Speakers is in charge of our own events. The club is fully functioning and we can delegate tasks to committees composed of students from all years. This could be considered as our greatest achievement so far as we are just getting started.
WW: What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Victoria: Definitely getting the organization off the ground. It was difficult at first to stand out as a club and to distinguish WW Allies from other gender equality groups on campus. At the beginning, people were confused about the difference between Wharton Women and Wharton Women Allies. Basically, we want to remain separate but use Wharton Women’s powerful platform and membership base. Currently, our biggest challenge is getting men involved.
WW: Where does the club stand now? Can you describe the event coming up next week?
Victoria: Our first big event is coming up on December 10th at 6pm: “Lean-In Circles”. For now, we are focusing on gender inequality, but going forward we might expand to racial diversity and so forth. A few words about our event: there will first be an introduction during which we will present the club to the audience and explain our mission. Then, we are going to break into smaller circles, based on the model developed by Lean-In Circles (founded by Sheryl Sandberg, who is COO of Facebook). It’s going to be a very open discussion, simply trying to get everyone’s opinions on gender inequality. Allowing everyone to have a voice in this conversation is what makes people receptive and makes this event special.
What is one thing everyone could do that would help your cause move forward?
Victoria: The first step is always being cognizant of the problem and recognizing the lack of representation of women in the workplace. It’s not always easy to see gender disparity as a student because it is more evident in the workplace. Even there, when you look around, you don’t notice it because you expect it. That is one of the main difference between undergraduates and graduate students—graduates have had that work experience and have actually experienced this inequality in the workforce. That is also why their engagement is higher. Another thing you could do is sticking up for your girlfriends; recognize the problem and act upon it.
WW: Is this inequality a matter of unequal entry into the workforce, or due to struggles with work/life balance later on?
Victoria: I think it’s a combination of both. I remember meeting a girl who told me that when she worked at a hedge fund, she was one of two girls in the room. It’s a problem because there were 60 people there in total.
WW: What is your goal for WW Allies 5 years down the line?
Victoria: A lot of schools are starting similar organizations dedicated to discussions. It would be great for Wharton to be known in 5 years as one of the schools that pioneered this movement; one of the schools known for creating a model of ally chapters. Wharton could set the example, build a model for other schools thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, and help the cause move forward.
Written by Margaux Carré (W’ 21).