Spring Brunch 2014 – Blazing Trails: The Stories and Insights of Influential Women Leaders from Stanford

What does it take to blaze a trail? This was the question asked of three Stanford women who have done just that at the annual Cap and Gown Spring Brunch held on April 19 at the Faculty Club. Over one hundred women including Stanford faculty, students and alumnae from the classes of 1943 to 1917 along with members of the community gathered to meet other women leaders, share a good meal and listen to Heidi Roizen, Miriam Rivera and Carroll Estes tell their stories.

Spring Brunch speakers

Heidi Roizen spoke first. Heidi is an accomplished entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture capitalist, educator and member of the boards of directors of numerous organizations. She shared her story of starting an early personal computer software company with her brother after graduating from Stanford with both an AB and MBA. While her brother focused on coding the product, Heidi planned to lead marketing and sales. It was a mentor of hers that convinced her to ask for the CEO title.

“There aren’t enough women taking the role of CEO or founding companies,” Heidi shared. “It was newsworthy that I was a female CEO and this helped me get in the conversation and be more strategic than if I had been VP of marketing.” Not that every woman needs to start a company. Heidi praised the entrepreneurial mentality intrinsic to Stanford’s culture and encouraged women to leverage that in their careers even it they don’t start a company. Heidi teaches a course on entrepreneurship at Stanford and fights for a good representation of women in her class. She makes a point to accept women who express interest, but her class has yet to reach 50% women.

Final words of advice: “Read Getting to 50/50” and “Go start something!”

Miriam Rivera took the podium next. Miriam is a successful attorney and entrepreneur. The daughter of migrant workers earned not one, not two, but four degrees from Stanford. She discovered the joy of learning at a young age and recalled how studying Oliver Twist in school shaped how she thought about her life circumstances: “Are you Fagin or Oliver Twist?” Miriam adopted Oliver’s outlook and shared how she was motivated by an inner sense of potential and drew strength from the understanding that part of her is indestructible.

As she continued her education at Phillips Exeter and later Stanford, she focused on defining her own path and not getting caught up in where one “summers” or who is on the Social Register. She became the second attorney hired at Google and helped grow the legal team from 2 to 150 worldwide. She went on to co-found Ulu Ventures, an early stage angel fund focused on IT investments.

All that success is not without challenges and sacrifices. Miriam shared the impact that a note from her daughter about not working so hard had on her when she found it in her work notebook. She has made adjustments over the years to spend more time with her family and values giving back to her community, including serving recently on Stanford’s Board of Trustees.

Final words of advice: “The blessings you give are not restricted to your intellect and your career; you also give of your heart.”

Carroll Estes was unfortunately unable to attend for health reasons, but Spring Brunch Committee and Stanford Faculty member Ruth Cronkite read a few words from an interview with Dr. Estes, who is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at UCSF and has served as a consultant to the U.S. Senate and House Committees on Aging for more than three decades. Based on Carroll’s experience founding and directing the Institute for Health and Aging and chairing the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences in the School of Nursing, it is no surprise that Carroll is a big proponent of education. As she put it, “Fight for education.”

Carroll also reminded us that there is no substitution for doing your homework. This is the key to strategizing outcomes and developing a point of view. When you have something to say, speak your mind. Carroll also advised students in particular to find and make mentors and to be a mentor for others.

Final words of advice: “Go straight to the top. Don’t mess around with the middle.”

In the discussion that followed, work-life balance was top of mind for many in the audience. Heidi and Miriam spoke candidly about their experiences raising children while having a career. As CEO, Heidi had the flexibility to breastfeed in her office. Miriam valued the flexibility that Google offered. “If you can bring a dog to work, you should be able to bring a baby to work.” One senior woman at Google was able to negotiate for her children to travel with her on the company dime, but not every workplace is so accommodating. Sharing child rearing responsibilities with a spouse is often crucial. Workplaces should welcome families. Children can be an inspiration.

It was a privilege to witness these women share these stories. After the discussion, we were excited to honor both Heidi and Miriam with a traditional tapping ceremony welcoming them as Honorary Members to Cap and Gown. Carroll had been tapped as an undergraduate student. Alumnae Board Vice President Michelle Galloway led the ceremony with Actives Board officers Stephanie Glass and Andrea Hinton donning gowns to present the awards.

We were also pleased to introduce a new Cap and Gown tradition at the Spring Brunch: the Distinguished Service Award. The aim of this award is to acknowledge and celebrate the continuous outstanding contributions of members of Cap and Gown to the organization. This year we honored Jean Coblentz and Ellie Mansfield for their extraordinary contributions to Cap and Gown.

Jean photoEllie Photo

The Spring Brunch this year was truly a memorable event and we look forward to seeing you at the next one.

Many thanks to Shari Kuchenbecker, Susan Phillips, Robin Murphy, Ruth Cronkite and Carmen Sebro for helping to organize this event.