Alumnae Analyze Their ‘Mental Models’

Wharton is well known for its alumni network, but its alumnae network is powerful on its own. When Wharton women graduates come together, they tend to “connect in ways that are unique, different, deeper.”

“Women do this very naturally,” said Monica McGrath, adjunct assistant professor in the Wharton Management department. “That includes learning from one another.”

One thing women business leaders tend to do as well, according to McGrath, is operate under the same “mental model.” In other words, the woman who is the CFO of a major corporation is the same woman who helps her children with their math homework during the weekend.

It was with the idea of changing, or at least realizing, these mental models that McGrath presented the attendees of the recent third annual conference of the Wharton Women in Business Alumnae Group with a deck of cards.

This wasn’t a deuce through ace, hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades kind of deck. Each card featured a unique image—from dragon slayers on horseback to a vista of medieval Venice; from three baby dolls to a cartoon of a “fat cat” businessman; from a romantic painting of farmhand and fair maiden to a mother cheetah with kittens.

Samples of Professor McGrath's cards.

McGrath tasked each woman to pick one card from that deck that represented her leadership story, past and present, and another card from the deck that represented their aspirations. Then the attendees explained their selections to the other alumnae at their table.

The attendees did not need much encouragement to talk to each other, a sign to McGrath that Wharton’s women were able to at least see the “furniture” in their minds, even perhaps move it around a little.

Conference speaker Suzy Ganz, WG’88, CEO of Lion Brothers Co. Inc., continued this theme of self-awareness. She referred to a saying that she had seen daily growing up, hung to her mother’s fridge: “Today, I will not should all over myself.”

Instead of should—things done because you feel you ought to do them—today’s Wharton women talk about their goals.

“I don’t do shoulds.  I do responsible,” said Mindy Posoff, WG’86, managing director of Golden Seeds and founder of Traversent Capital Partners. “There are certain things I feel responsible for, and I will commit to them.”

Ellen Yin, W’87, WG’93, owner of Philadelphia’s renowned Fork Restaurant, joked that she is full of should, but then explained that she has learned that one needs a vision for where you want to go. If a should doesn’t match this vision, then don’t do it.

Yin and Posoff were speakers on a panel moderated by Ganz during the Wharton Women in Business Alumnae Group conference, held March 1 to 2 at Wharton’s Philadelphia campus.

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    The card exercise was fun and enlightening.  Overall the event was well organized, fun, and inspirational.

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