Women at Johnson are in it together—brilliant, compassionate, strong

By: Katelyn Godoy
Group of women holds a #CornellMBA sign

By Cassiope Sydoriak, Two-Year MBA ’20

As I flick through photos from the last five months at Johnson, I smile uncontrollably. It’s hard to imagine that in half a year I’ve made the closest female friends of my entire life. Not only are they compassionate and confident, but they’re brilliant, energetic, hilarious, and (you guessed it) strong. Those childlike insecurities about making friends on the first day of class? Wiped away as soon as I set foot in Sage Hall.

In business school, we employ a lot of frameworks. There are Porter’s 5 Forces, the 4 P’s, and the 5 C’s, not to mention the Growth-Share Matrix and PESTLE (hint: it’s not just a tool in the kitchen). For the sake of consistency, I’ll organize my thoughts as “five myths about being a woman at Johnson.”

Myth #1: As 1/3 of the student body, women answer 1/3 of professors’ questions

This year, Johnson saw female enrollment increase from 27 to 33 percent. Though this is a strong indicator of progress, we still face a 1:3 ratio in the classroom. A statistician may conclude that women, consequently, answer a third of the professors’ questions. Mathematically, it just makes sense.

But the truth is quite different. In an unscientific straw poll (aka sitting in class), I’ve concluded that women are equally—if not more—engaged in classroom discussions. We draw upon personal experiences, and my peers discuss product launches they oversaw while working at Target, or finance approaches drawn from years of experience as an analyst at Goldman Sachs. Our stories bring life to discussions, and I’ve learned as much from my peers as from the textbook.

Five people in business attire
Cassiope with her core team

Myth #2: The business world is all about who you know

We’ve heard this claim a thousand times. At repetitive networking events, you try to find the most interesting person in the room so you have an excuse to befriend them later on LinkedIn.

The truth, I’m afraid, is much more complicated. Your rolodex may be filled with Ivy League names and an alumni network scattered throughout Wall Street, but it’s the depth of relationships that really matters.

Here at Johnson, deeply meaningful relationships are the norm rather than the exception. First, we’re conveniently situated in small-town Ithaca, and you can hardly spend a day without running into a classmate. These repeated interactions lead to inside jokes, ongoing stories, and a level of trust that may not be formed in a larger city. After meeting 49 Johnson women at the Forté Conference last summer, they’ve become my de-facto social circle, and we’ve all built deep, sustained relationships that will last a lifetime.

Second, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is your key to unlocking deep professional relationships with female alumni. They never hesitate to share contact information that could lead to a 30-minute conversation or even a job offer. The Cornell alumni network is at your fingertips, and the supportiveness of the women’s network has never ceased to amaze me.

Myth #3: Men don’t belong in a women’s club on campus

It’s time to officially squash this mindset. Johnson Allies for Women (JAWs) is an official campus club that brings men into the conversation. How can women (and men) increase their representation in business? By having productive conversations and allies who openly acknowledge the milestones we’ve reached—and the lengths that still remain—we are creating an iterative support system for ALL students. The Johnson Women’s Management Council and JAWs host regular events that stimulate discussion, and my classmates do not shy away from difficult conversations.

Myth #4: Women have to work harder than men to reach leadership positions

Five women standing on a porch overlooking a field
Cassiope and friends on a wine tour

Though this stereotype has been fading in recent years, according to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Americans “say it is easier for men than women to get elected to high political offices and to get top executive positions in business.” People believe men and women are equally qualified, so why are there so few women at the top?

Johnson is defying this trend in almost every way. Women hold major club positions across the board, including High Tech Club president, Old Ezra co-president, Consulting Club president, Big Red Tech Strategy co-president, and Student Council co-president. Women and men demonstrate equal representation on all student club boards, and these elected positions are the public face of student life here at Johnson.

Additionally, I’ve worked closely with Judi Byers, executive director of admissions, Laura Georgianna, executive director of leadership programs, and Jamie Joshua, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, who are championing women at Johnson at all levels. Regular events like Sandwiches and Sage Advice connect female students and faculty, and the Johnson Women in Business Symposium (JWiB) showcases inspirational leadership from and impressive host of female alumni.

Myth #5: Women are catty and will do anything to get ahead

We’ve all heard legends about backstabbing and highly competitive inter-office politics. If there’s only so many C-suite positions, that stiletto may come in handy to pull someone else down.

No, no, no. Put the stiletto down and back away slowly! Johnson students are some of the most supportive, inclusive people I’ve ever met. We celebrate the little wins. Through the challenges of first semester core classes, recruiting, and missing friends back home, it’s not unusual to schedule coffee or attend a 10-minute student-led meditation. To quote one of my best friends here, “it’s important to lift as you climb,” and every hand reaching forward extends a hand back. We are in this together, stilettos and all.

About Cassiope Sydoriak, Two-Year MBA ’20

Cassiope Sydoriak

Cassiope Sydoriak is a Forté fellow at Johnson. She holds a Master’s degree in history of art from the University of Oxford and is passionate about the motivators behind brand strategy and consumer behavior. Prior to her MBA, she launched a social enterprise in the UK and led B2B marketing at WhistlePig Rye Whiskey. Cassiope will be joining McKinsey NYC as a Summer Associate.