Celebrating HERstory: Stories of Women at Haas

On March 30, 2021, the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership (EGAL) and the Berkeley Haas DEI team hosted a story slam as part of Women’s History month, featuring some phenomenal women from Berkeley Haas telling their stories of hope, strength and perseverance. It was an inspiring session, below are some of the stories.

Guadalupe Manriquez is a current full-time MBA student at Haas, a double bear, and a prior fiscal advisor at the California Department of Finance overseeing policy & budget proposals for public healthcare programs. Guadalupe took the audience on a journey through her life, starting with the moment she got the call from Haas telling her she had gotten into the business school. She talked about her family’s journey leading up to the moment she got the call, which started 2 generations ago, when her grandfather migrated to the US as a Bracero, or guest worker, during US agricultural shortages in the 1950s and 60s. Due to limited opportunities in Mexico, her father also migrated to the US to work in the California fields and eventually was able to petition for his family to come to the US. Guadalupe shared her family’s experience settling in California’s Central Valley during a time of intense anti-immigrant sentiment in the mid-90s and the harsh realities of growing up in a small farmworking community. These experiences reminded Guadalupe that the only way to better opportunities would be through education. Fast forward to her first semester at Haas, she was excited to be back on campus. However, coming from a non-business background, the learning curve was steep and she found herself embroiled with imposter syndrome and questioning whether she belonged here. But in these moments she would get strength from her roots. In the words of the star tennis player Naomi Osaka, “every time I remember [that my ancestors’] blood runs through my veins, I am reminded that I cannot lose.” Similarly for Guadalupe, the stories of her family and ancestors, their struggle, gave her the resilience to keep fighting. These stories have also inspired her to champion students from underrepresented backgrounds and to fight against long-standing injustices. In the words of Notorious B.I.G., “it was all a dream!”

Martha Ivanovas is an EMBA candidate at Berkeley Haas, class of 2022. Martha works at Dell technologies, managing relationships with governments and partners with a focus on advanced tech. She drives business development in Europe for the company’s VC arm. She is also a semi professional rugby player. Martha took the audience through growing up in a village of about 500 people in Greece and how this propelled her to prove her value. She spent the next 20 years of her life investing in her skills, advancing her learning, and taking some good fights. Fast forward to a couple years ago when she decided to attend business school, and European business schools told her that her different background meant she would struggle to make it and might not fit in. At Haas, in contrast, the team told her that they valued uniqueness and that she would be a great addition to the community, reflecting what Haas stands for. Martha recently experienced how this is empowering her, when running for a board seat for her company at an industry board in the tech space. This was a virtual general assembly with 100–120 people, and the chairman announced the representatives who had been elected to turn on their cameras for everyone to see who they are, showing one white male after another. Martha reacted instantly by calling out to the organizers that they had a serious issue with diversity on their board, starting with gender. The chairman read her message to the general assembly, kicking off a discussion for reforming the board to increase diversity. Haas empowers her to challenge the status quo in the moment and be confident in taking the fight as it happens.

Erika Walker is the Assistant Dean of Undergraduate programs at Haas. She joined Haas 16 years ago, following 12 years of business experience in the private and non profit industries. Erika walked us through how she was the first person in her family to go to college and had always been laser sharp focused on education. However, life happened and she had her first son right after graduating college. Soon everything shifted and her focus became her career to support her family. A colleague later asked when she would feel she had reached success, and she said she wanted a job that allowed her to travel, that made her feel that she was filling her purpose, was passionate about it, enjoyed working with her colleagues, and a salary that helped support her family. Fast forward to Haas, starting off as Director of Operations for admissions in the undergraduate office, this role was all of those things and more. She felt empowered that she was a young woman of color, often being the only one around the table, and this was huge. But her mother, being a stereotypical Asian mom, would always remind her that she wanted her to become a doctor. So as Erika continued on her professional journey, she discussed with her mentors what her next steps would look like, and realized that maybe a Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs was something she really aimed for. However, her mentors told that she needed credentials if she wanted to stay in higher education. Finally it resonated and Erika started researching programs. She really liked a program called Educational Leadership, owing to her passion for education, plus it fulfilled her criteria of being nearby with agreeable hours, as she had 2 children to take care of. Fast forward to the time, just 5 days after the birth of her 3rd child, she was watching the Presidential inauguration of Barack Obama and decided to apply for grad school. If nothing, she would at least learn through the process. On April fools day, she got the call for an interview, and a nursing mom with a 2.5 month old baby, she spent almost 2 hours in the interview with her body temp overheating due to being a nursing mom. That August, Erika attended her first class in grad school, 15 years after being in undergrad. Even though it was exhausting, attending classes at night after the work day, she loved it. She realized she loved research, and the world of academia. She also developed a course called Diversity in Workplace. Teaching a course, while attending grad school, with running a UG program and managing her life as a mom, wife, and daughter, became a real struggle. The procrastination was real, she was never able to switch off her work brain, and it finally took her 3 years to get that dissertation done. She ended up having to take off 6 weeks from work to focus on completing her dissertation, with writing at odd hours like 11pm-4am. Finally after getting her doctorate in educational leadership, her family is so proud of her, and they tease her at moments saying ‘Mom knows everything, she is a doctor, Dr. Erika Walker!’.

All of these stories were so inspiring and gave the audience insight into the struggle behind the achievements of women with different backgrounds and in different walks of life. At the end, the audience got an opportunity to interact with the speakers addressing any personal questions in breakout rooms. Overall, the event was an amazing forum to know about and talk to these inspiring women from Berkeley Haas!