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A Dean’s Career Advice To Young Women

Kellogg Dean Sally Blount

Kellogg Dean Sally Blount

Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management Dean Sally Blount, one of the few female deans of a top-ranked business school, has some advice for young women—and it’s not what many would like to hear.

In a brief yet poignant talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival earlier this month, Dean Blount urged young female graduates to go into the most challenging and demanding jobs in business straight out of college, jobs that are more likely to be pursued by their male peers.

“I would argue that the first job is not the time to focus on comfort, balance or even mission,” she declared. “That can and should come later. The first job is the time in their lives for these women to gain credentials, take risks, travel, and land as big and bold an opportunity as they can find.”

FEMALE GRADS ARE UP TO 50% LESS LIKELY TO ENTER THE MOST COMPETITIVE BUSINESS TRACKS

Noting that women make up more than half the entering freshmen at college, but only a small fraction of CEOs, board directors and government leaders, she said Kellogg has identified three “critical pivot points where we are losing women on the way to the C-suite: the launch, the child-rearing years, and the transition to senior management positions.”

“Today,” she said, “I want to focus on the launch, that critical first job after college because there have been a lot of troubling statistics out of Northwestern and Harvard that show that in their first year out of college, women from these top schools are up to 50% less likely than their male peers to enter the most competitive business tracks, like investment banking and mangement consulting.”

Blount, who became dean of Kellogg four years ago after serving a six-year stint at dean of New York University’s undergraduate business program, then recounted her decision to join the Boston Consulting Group in 1983 after graduating from Princeton University with a bachelor’s degree in engineering systems and economic policy.

‘I DO STILL KNOW HOW TO WRITE A KILLER POWERPOINT DECK’

“When i look back on my own career, I now realize how important my own first real job was at BCG,” she said. “It set me on the trajectory that has actually landed me as the first and so far only female dean of a top ranked business school. At BCG, I was imprinted in the ways of business, I developed critical problem solving skills and I do still know how to write a killer Powerpoint deck,” quipped Blount.

“If you want our best and brightest young women to become great leaders we have to convince more of them that their first job has to be in business and they have to go for those big business jobs no matter what career they want to pursue. Business is the dominant social institution of our age and if you don’t understand business you won’t be an effective leader in any sector.

“The reason I care so much about getting more women in entry level jobs in business is because that’s how you build confidence and that’s how you build understanding about how the world works. The best and brightest of this generation is opting out before they even start. That’s why we have to be pushing even in this room from the very beginning, your daughters and your granddaughters, push them to take big jobs.”

Besides the advice she offered young women, however, the most compelling part of her talk had to do with her daughter Haley White. She told the Aspen audience that after her daughter was accepted at Princeton University, she decided to take a gap year.

‘THIS IS WHAT THE PERSON I WANT TO BECOME WOULD DO’

“She proceeded to research and craft a very impressive 12-month itinerary that was going to take her to three projects in three different countries,” recalled Dean Blount. “As she was presenting this final plan to me, I suddenly realized that my 18-year-old daughter was proposing to make her way around the world on her own—literally. And I flinched. I told her, ‘You know I’m not quite so sure I can back up this plan.’ And to my amazement, my strong-willed daughter didn’t lash out at that moment to defend it. She stopped and she turned to me and said, ‘But Mom, this is what the person I want to become would do.’

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