Welcome to the Working Week

Two Bryn Mawr graduates offer their take on how current students need to best prepare for success.

Every year, alumnae/i return to campus, courtesy of the Leadership, Innovation, and Liberal Arts Center (LILAC), to meet with students for talks about career and the world outside the Bryn Mawr Bubble. They share stories that trace their own trajectory from Bryn Mawr to the corner office and offer insights about the job hunt, work-life balance, and the definition of success. Last year, the Bulletin sat in on sessions with Brinda Ganguly ’97 and Meiko Takayama ’91. Here’s some of what they had to say.

Brinda Ganguly ’97

Major: Economics and Spanish
Occupation: Senior Associate Director, The Rockefeller Foundation

When I graduated from BMC, I was interested in economics, law, and policy—so I ended up at an economic consulting firm in Boston called Charles River Associates. It was an exciting time to be in the workforce but, after three years in consulting, I recognized that I needed more technical skills—so I went to business school at Columbia.

After obtaining my MBA, I lucked into a social investing position at George Soros’s Open Society Institute. There, I was able to further develop my financial skills, but in a way that aligned with my personal values and interest in international development.

Soros was satisfying, but I was young and hungry. So I went to work for Citi in their corporate investment bank. I learned a lot: I was credit-trained, and I worked on some big transactions that were reported in the Wall Street Journal.

But banking didn’t check all the boxes. My mind was learning a lot, but I wanted to go back to the social investing world. I ended up at The Rockefeller Foundation, where I manage a social investments portfolio.

QUESTION: What does The Rockefeller Foundation do? And what’s involved in your work?

The bulk of The Rockefeller Foundation’s activities lie in grant-making: the money goes out the door to fund a social project or organization or activity, and the money never comes back.

But the work I do is different: we’re funding organizations that are doing socially motivated work and they're generating profit. It’s from that profit that they repay us.

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately working on loans to companies in India that are building solar-powered plants in rural areas where the national grid doesn’t reach, to villages where there’s no power.

QUESTION: How do you make a financial return as well as a social impact?

Here is an example. Within the portfolio of investments I oversee, we make loans to microfinance institutions. When we make those loans, they lend in turn to, say, a low-income woman who needs to borrow money but otherwise may not have access to credit. When that person repays the loan, the microfinance institution repays us.

We also invest in private equity funds that have a social mission. We invest in a number of structured debt funds that might be financing low-income housing or the expansion of health clinics that serve low-income people.

QUESTION: How effective is microfinance?

I am a big believer in access to credit. Think about all the access to credit that we enjoy in this country, with our very developed capital markets. We access credit for a lot of very productive things—like going to college. Then imagine not having access to credit, especially when you don’t have very much money and you need to borrow to pay for your kids’ school, or for a business you’re building, or for food for your family.

So, I think having access to credit that's given responsibly is important, and charging reasonable interest rates is important, and not using thuggish methods to get repaid is important.

QUESTION: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Probably 80 percent of my job is just like that of any commercial financier, but then about 20 percent gets funky. That’s the impact piece.

Our typical investments have a positive correlation between social impact and our financial interest. Say we lend to a company that’s building solar-powered plants: they sell power to households and collect fees, and then the company repays the debt to us.

Understanding the nuances of that relationship is part of the funky 20 percent. As an investor, we provide money that has a number of handcuffs. If the company we’re lending to doesn’t achieve XYZ social impact, we have the ability to do things that will not be good for it. And that forces a conversation about what they’re trying to do, what we’re trying to do, and whether we are the right partners for one another.

That’s the part of my job that is personally very fulfilling: it’s the hardest intellectually and the riskiest. It's a puzzle, and you’re trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together.

QUESTION: How did your time at Bryn Mawr help you achieve what you have?

When I entered the workforce, there wasn’t as much emphasis on being prepared as there is now. As a result, I was blissfully unaware of what I didn’t know, and Bryn Mawr didn’t have LILAC and all the programs it offers.

But I did have internships. Internships are a great way to test out your interests, and they build a network of people. When you build relationships early in your career, it pays back 20 years, 30 years later.

Also, then, there’s the value of a liberal arts education. I work with a lot of people who have liberal arts degrees, and I wouldn’t underestimate the skills they bring: critical thinking skills, writing skills, working together.

Meiko Takayama ’91

Major: History of Art
Occupation: Founder/CEO, Advancing Women Executives

After college, I got fantastic internships, first at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and then at the Guggenheim in Venice. From there, I moved to New York for a fundraising job at the Guggenheim and then went to the Museum of Modern Art, where I became head of fundraising.

I began wondering, "What else is there out there?" So I went into consulting and then executive recruiting. As a recruiter, I saw how small the number of executive women is in the U.S.

So, I started Advancing Women Executives, a business consulting service that works with VP-level and above corporate executives. Our mission is to accelerate the careers of women in business to improve the global economy.

10 things I wish I had known about the real world when I was in college

1. Do something that drives your passion and that you're good at.

I was fortunate. Early on, I was coordinating exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Back then, that was my passion—and I was good at it. But what I was really great at was selling, and I figured that out when I got into fundraising.

2. Negotiate your very first salary out of college.

By the time they retire, women will have $500,000 less in wealth growth than men—largely because they don’t negotiate their first salary. I didn’t because I thought I was lucky to get the job. It’s not easy to do, and you may be dinged because we live in a world with double standards. But it’s important.

3. As women, we need to perform competently yet act warmly.

Men need to perform competently, but they can be jerks—and what’s more, they’ll be considered brilliant. That’s not the case for women.

4. Set your professional goals and let others know what they are.

As young girls, we’re told if you study hard, you'll get good grades, and if you get good grades, you’ll get noticed. And then we go into the real world, and we think, “If I work hard, I’ll get noticed. If I get noticed, I’ll get promoted.” If we lived in a true meritocracy, there would be more women in power. But we don’t because no one just gets noticed for hard work.

5. Informally promote yourself to your boss.

When a boss hears casually but consistently that someone's working hard, it’s human nature to think that
that person is doing more work than somebody who’s keeping quiet.

6. Don't ask too many questions.

Again it’s human nature to wonder whether someone asking a lot of questions just doesn’t get it. And statistically more women ask questions than men do. Men know better than to appear as though they don’t know. So if you have a question to ask, start with a “listen how smart I am” statement: “Given that the cost of oil has decreased significantly across the past 24 months, I’m wondering what your strategy would be?”

7. Support your female colleagues unconditionally.

If somebody is asking you for a recommendation for an internship or whatever, make sure that you give a good name for women. If you have nothing good to say about a woman, don’t say anything at all.

8. The world is based on relationships. So build relationships.

Use these relationships, but not just as friendships. As women we tend to have these very deep yet narrow relationships as opposed to men who go broad and shallow. Broad and shallow is great because it means that more people know who you are, and it’s all about who knows you. Walk around, build relationships, go out to lunch.

9. Mentors are good, but sponsors are great.

A mentor is somebody that you bounce ideas off of. A sponsor is the person who has derived value from you and who will talk about you when you’re not in the room.

Statistically more women have mentors than men do. Men get promoted more.

10. Be confident. 

If you're confident, then you’ll know your own value, and you’ll negotiate your very first salary.

If you're confident, then you will set professional goals.

If you're confident, you’ll promote yourself.

If you're confident, you won’t necessarily ask too many questions because you know the answers.

If you're confident, you’ll know to support your female colleagues and your classmates.

If you're confident, you’ll know that relationships are incredibly important.

If you're confident, you know the value that you bring to your sponsors.

Remember: Every single one of you is a highly accomplished, highly intelligent individual. This is why you went to Bryn Mawr.