Stanford GSB Women’s Circles Celebrates 10th Anniversary
The fast-growing network of small groups marks a decade of helping alumni stay connected to the GSB and each other.
In the summer of 2018, Hiral Shah, MBA ’16, felt like her back was against the wall. Her boss at the multinational firm where she worked had left the company, and a shakeup was underway. Her Bay Area office would be closed, and the timing couldn’t be worse for her.
“I was told either I moved to Nashville, or find other opportunities outside,” she says. “It was a terrible moment. I had a nine-month-old baby, I was breastfeeding, and I’m on a visa, so it wasn’t even about being out of a job; it was about being out of the country if I couldn’t maintain employment.”
Shah found the support she needed at GSB Women’s Circles, a fast-growing network of small groups of GSB alumni who meet monthly in members’ homes — or virtually — to support and inspire each other through life’s personal and professional ups and downs. Launched in 2013, the organization marks its 10th anniversary this year, and continues to expand its mission to support alumni through the entire arc of their lives, says Michelle Clayman, MBA ’79, who co-founded the group with K. Danae Pauli, MBA ’12.
“It’s exceeded all my expectations,” says Clayman, who sits on the Women’s Circles New York City Regional Leadership Board and the group’s Global Management board, in addition to co-leading her own circle’s group. “We now have 1,200 women in 171 circles, with a retention rate of 90 percent. We have circles throughout the U.S. and in regions including Asia, Europe, Mexico, and Africa. If you happen to live in Timbuktu, you can be part of our virtual circles that operate in the European time zone. We’ve worked hard to make sure everyone can access this amazing program.”
Circles are not networking groups; rather, they provide a safe community where members can meet in a confidential environment supported by other GSB alumni who range in age, background, and perspective. Paola Retes, MBA ’22, joined Women’s Circles after moving to Austin, Texas, where she works for a venture capital firm.
“I was a part of the Women In Management (WIM) group when I was at the GSB, and I’ve had many great connections stem out of that,” she says. “Now, I only have a few classmates in the Austin area, so being part of Women’s Circles allows me to continue to feel connected to the Stanford community. For me, the GSB was sort of a magical place where I felt anything was possible, and I wanted to keep some of that spirit alive, and this is a great way to do that.”
Lorie Jackson, MBA ’89, is Vice Chair of GSB Women’s Circles, sits on its Global Management and Regional Leadership boards and is a member of the group’s Ambassador Program. She lives in Washington, D.C., where she works as an executive leadership coach following a 29-year career at ExxonMobil.
“At the time I joined Women’s Circles, I felt I was missing something by not being connected with my alma mater,” she says. “The GSB is an intellectually stimulating environment with talented and thoughtful people, and I wanted to continue to engage with the people and the work being done there in my post-graduate life. This group is an innovative way to do that.”
Support, Inspiration, Experience
Hiral Shah now works as a Bay Area-based product leader advising startups and sits on Women’s Circles’ Global Management Board. Her circle provided not just emotional support during her employment crisis but a reminder that she had an option she’d neglected to consider.
“Because my circle members had seen this type of situation before, they were able to help me understand the leverage and rapport I had there and how I could tap into it without being afraid.”
Her effort succeeded; the company’s CEO, a Stanford GSB alumnus, offered Shah a position working with him on a new product idea, as well as a special project that included having her recruit MBAs from the GSB.
From top left to right: Jillian DeKunder, Tamara Powers, Cristi Jakubik, Laura Zung, Hiral Shah, Michelle Clayman, Erika Haas, Stephanie Mishra, GSB Alumni Relations; Second Row: Debra Gore, Kathleen Morgan, Allison Scott, Jessica Mennella, Laura Fratt, Bottom Row: Marina Lieban, Rachel Fleitell, Ivy Chiu, Carla de Cervantes, K. Danae Pauli, Tatiana Nemo
Something For Everyone
Moving into its second decade, Women’s Circles continues to expand its outreach and is investigating new offerings, including the possible addition of affinity groups that could appeal to alumni at different life stages, such as new mothers, those returning to work, or those approaching retirement.
“I would recommend that every GSB woman try a circle,” says Brett Calhoun, MBA ’11, who lives in Seattle and works for Amazon as a category leader. “I love the idea of women at all different personal and professional stages coming together to have discussions and share varied perspectives on how to manage life and a career.”
Part of the organization’s success is its mission to be relevant to all alumni, says Clayman, who continues to be a member of Women’s Circle #1.