A veteran attorney, Harriet Tamen '69 is lead counsel in an ongoing lawsuit against the French Railroad, SNCF, for the deportation of French Jews and other “undesirables” to Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Prior to entering private practice, she was corporate counsel at Credit Lyonnais and vice president and counsel in the Latin American Finance Division of Citibank. She was on the advisory committee for the U.S. Export- Import Bank and has lectured at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University, where she organized a conference on economic development and business opportunities in Central Asia and the Black Sea Region. Working with the Financial Services Volunteer Corp, she has lectured in Moscow and in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on international banking issues.
She returned to campus on Jan. 31 as part of the Career & Civic Engagement Office’s Alumnae/i in Residence program.
In the below Q&A, Tamen, a political science major when at Bryn Mawr, talks about her career, her advice for current students, and more.
How did you get involved in your current field?
I went to law school to change the world, discovered that I really liked business and that the world did not want to be changed the way I wanted it to change. I spent many years in the financial and international business areas doing business deals. By chance, a colleague who was a class action litigator (but not a financial lawyer) asked for my help in suing French banks on behalf of those whose accounts had been frozen during the war. It started as an interesting intellectual issue, but the refusal of banks and others to accept responsibility—or even admit their actions—turned it into something more moral and more important. I have now spent most of my time the last 20 years representing, pro bono, Holocaust victims and their families seeking justice. It is incredibly satisfying (even when we don't win), and I have met some of the most wonderful people in the world.
What part of your Bryn Mawr experience has been most important to your professional development?
Learning how to write clearly and how to think critically. Also, having a really good, rounded education is crucial. Studying something because it is "relevant" to a career makes no sense. One of the reasons that I ended up doing war crimes work is because I studied French literature at Bryn Mawr. Spending my junior year abroad was crucial because it gave me language fluency and gave me the opportunity to live in another culture and learn from that. Also, the friends that I made at Bryn Mawr are still some of my best friends. They provide emotional and professional support.
What career advice do you have for current Bryn Mawr students?
Get the best education you can and take any course that intrigues you. You will never have another opportunity to study something just because it is interesting. Graduate schools will train you in the more specific areas that are relevant to whatever career you choose. I strongly urge everyone to spend a year, or a semester, abroad. Being able to speak a second language can be very helpful. Most business and work today has an international aspect, and spending time in other countries will help in many careers and also make you more interesting to potential employees. We all need to have knowledge of other people and other cultures for personal and professional reasons, and it makes us better people. Stay in touch with your friends and form networks for support. Women generally are not very good at mentoring, and your friends at Bryn Mawr can be incredibly helpful—and you can be helpful to them as well.
What made you choose to attend Bryn Mawr?
I came from a very large (700 students in my senior class) public co-ed high school and wanted something very different. I wanted a college in the Northeast, small, and all girls and with a campus. I also liked the average class size, and the variety of classes and subjects. And it was far enough away from Miami Beach to make sure my parents didn't drop by all the time
The goal of the Alumnae/i in Residence program is for small groups of students to spend time connecting with an alumna/us who returns to the campus for the day. Discussion topics cover a wide variety of areas including graduate programs, the job hunt, work-life balance, and the definition of success. For current list of guests, dates and registration, log into Handshake.