Day-Long Summit Convened Women Leaders from Many Nations and Fields to Discuss Women's Leadership

June 24, 2013

On June 15, 2013, the inaugural partnership between Wellesley and Peking University (PKU) culminated in Women’s Leadership: Making a Difference in the World. The all-day summit assembled hundreds of women leaders from an array of nations and fields to discuss global leadership, female empowerment, and the importance of liberal arts education in a globalized era. The high-powered cast of presenters featured prominent women in the media, politics, business, science and technology, the arts, and education, reflecting in English and Chinese on their trials and triumphs as female leaders. 

The conference opened with remarks from Wellesley College President H. Kim Bottomly and Peking University President Wang Enge, followed by the day’s first session with Yang Lan, a major media entrepreneur often lauded as “the Oprah of China.”

“Beyond fighting or fleeing, women should have a third choice to stand up and face others. Women should help each other, women should encourage each other,” Yang Lan told those gathered for the event. “Only when society achieves freedom of choice will true equality between men and women be realized.”

U.S. astronaut Pamela Melroy 83 followed Yang Lan’s presentation, speaking about her experience as the second woman to command a NASA shuttle to space. During the session, which was moderated by Kris de Juniac ’72, former managing director of the Boston Consulting Group, Melroy explained that hers was not a male or female leadership style, but rather a “Pam leadership style.” Melroy called for conference participants to be honest with themselves, saying, “Leadership begins when you know your own heart.”

The presentations later in the day continued to call upon the testimony and counsel of women who have excelled in their respective fields, including: Mona Locke, former TV journalist and wife of Gary Locke, U.S. Ambassador to China; Wu Qing, legislator, educator, and daughter of prolific Chinese writer Bing Xin ’26; Madame Wu Qidi, former vice minister, Chinese Ministry of Education; Shirley Young ’55, former corporate vice president, General Motors; Hu Shuli, founder of Caixin Media; and Hsueh-ming Wang, chairman of China, BlackRock.

In addition to the speakers’ panel presentations, the conference also featured Story Tables, an innovative small-group think tank method led by Public Radio Capital co-founder Susan Harmon ’67, in which conference-goers shared their experiences and discussed the topic of female leadership in a global era at round tables. Designated note-takers at each table recorded the conversations, and after 45 minutes of discussion, each small group communicated to the larger gathering the common themes they discovered in dialogue at their table.

The conference also featured a presentation about the academic program of the Wellesley-PKU partnership. The 10-day academic program, which preceded the conference, assembled 40 female students from Wellesley and PKU in Beijing to work in teams to confront international issues regarding this year’s topic: Challenges of an Urban Future. Modeled on the teaching style of the Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs, which occurs at Wellesley during Wintersession each year, students learn about global problems and develop leadership skills through a multidisciplinary approach. During the conference, students from the Wellesley-PKU academic program spoke about their daily activities and the rigorous yet rewarding experience of cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural collaboration to provide solutions for topics ranging from public health to cultural heritage.

The conference concluded with a dinner for all attendees at Diaoyutai Statehouse, during which Ambassador Gary Locke made introductory remarks and Madame Chen Zhili, vice chairman of the 11th Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China, delivered a keynote address calling for a fundamental shift towards enriching women’s leadership at all levels of society. Composer Tan Dun presented an excerpt from his work Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women

The Wellesley College-Peking University partnership and conference is the first in a series that Wellesley intends create under its larger initiative Women World Partners, dedicated to empowering a new generation of women for leadership through international collaboration. The Wellesley-PKU partnership academic program will celebrate its second year on the Wellesley College campus in the summer of 2014.

Audrey Wozniak 14, reporting from Beijing