YaleWomen award shines light on Yale women advancing equity
Susan Lennon ’85 M.P.P.M., chair of YaleWomen, remembers the moment when the group was effectively born. It was in 2010 at a conference called “Celebrating Yale Women: 40 Years in Yale College, 140 Years at Yale” and Linda Lorimer ’77 J.D., former university vice president and Yale’s longest-running officer, announced an “audacious” idea. “We’ve heard for so long about the ‘old boys’ network,’” Lorimer said. “Could we imagine a new sisters’ connection, one that had such a robust inventory of the resources Yale women represent (our experiences, talents and interests) that we would call upon one another to help address the larger issues of our society?” The following year, YaleWomen was incorporated — a group that counts all Yale women graduates as members, and now has 11,000 participants and over 20 chapters across the globe. The group held its inaugural conference in 2013 and gave out its first award — to Lorimer — in 2016.
On March 7, YaleWomen will host the second YaleWomen Award for Excellence event in Washington, D.C. Group leaders anticipated selecting one outstanding alumna to honor, but a compelling theme arose when the nominations came in. “Many of the women who were nominated were working for gender equity and parity,” Lennon says. “We had to seize the opportunity.”
This year, the award will honor three high-profile Yale women with Lifetime Achievement Awards: Anita F. Hill ’80 J.D., professor of Law and chair of public policy and women’s studies at Brandeis University; Catherine E. Lhamon ’96 J.D., legal affairs secretary to California Governor Gavin Newsom; and Ann Olivarius ’77 B.A., ’86 M.B.A., ’86 J.D., chair of McAllister Olivarius and senior partner of AO Advocates.
All three have been at the frontlines of advancing gender equity. Hill is a leading voice on workplace discrimination and chairs a Hollywood commission to eliminate sexual harassment. Lhamon chairs the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and Olivarius has long worked for women’s rights, establishing sexual harassment law in the U.S. and fighting to uphold Title IX, which provides equal treatment for women in education.
“When you give awards, you define what you value,” says Ellen Gibson McGinnis ’82 B.A., who chairs the Award for Excellence committee. “The social climate on gender issues is ripe for this discussion.”
In praise of ‘unsung’ alumni
Just as critically, YaleWomen looks to highlight alums who are doing inspirational work but have not received widespread recognition. This year, they are honoring five women with Impact Awards: Araceli Campos ’99 B.A., chair of the Los Angeles County Women and Girls Initiative; C’Ardiss Gardner Gleser ’08 B.A., program officer for the Satterberg Foundation; Kamala Lopez B.A., president of Heroica Films; Rebecca Reichmann Tavares ’78 B.A., interim coordinator of the U.N.’s Every Woman Every Child Initiative; and Vera Wells ’71 B.A., retired executive of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC).
Gardner Gleser came to Yale as an adult undergraduate — with children and a career in software. But her Yale experience left its mark. By the time she graduated at age 32, she was drawn to nonprofit and philanthropy work. “Yale is one of those places where you get an education that really helps you see yourself in the world,” she says.
After connecting with the Yale Black Alumni Association, Gardener Gleser discovered a whole community of likeminded alumni. “All of these people I met were committed to equity and social justice,” she says. “It made we wonder: Was Yale selecting students with a social justice mindset, or did it happen while they were there?”
Her passion for social justice extended not only to her professional life, where she’s working to improve social justice and sustainability, building stronger pipelines for women, and highlighting women in nontraditional careers, but also to her personal life. Thinking that she’d like to start a college awareness program in her hometown of Seattle, Washington, Gardner Gleser began a modest program in 2011 called the Do You Conference attached to the annual Yale Day of Service. The first year, it attracted 15-20 students. Last year, her conference drew over 100 students and support from Microsoft and the Gates Foundation, thanks in large part to the support of the Yale network.
“I went to college later in life, and there was so much I didn’t know,” she says. “I wanted to help provide information to other folks who didn’t know.” The conference included everything from essay-writing support, to mentor matching and career advice, to mindfulness and yoga.
The Impact Award gives YaleWomen the opportunity to, as Lennon says, “shine a light on alums” like Gardner Gleser, “who are doing great things but are not always visible.”
Stephanie Yu Lim ’00 B.A., chair of YaleWomen’s communications content committee, says these events are about driving change through inspiration and connection. “Our hope is to empower women alums to take pride in our achievements, honor the responsibility of our shared Yale experience, and inspire others to transform the world.”