Lisa Kaplowitz (far left) with Lei Lei, dean of Rutgers Business School, Sangeeta Rao and Laurie Platek

An initiative to create women leaders

On a spring evening in late April, a group of nearly 50 women gathered in a conference room overlooking Manhattan to hear about the launch of a new women’s initiative at Rutgers Business School.

The product of months of ground-laying work by Lisa Kaplowitz, a professor of professional practice in finance, and Sangeeta Rao, an assistant dean of mentoring, the initiative aims to bring together alumni, faculty and students to develop women leaders through education, innovation and opportunities.

“Study after study has demonstrated that women are not equally compensated or represented at any level of business,” Kaplowitz said. “We are really excited about the prospect of combining the talent of our alumni, faculty and students to remove barriers and empower women to lead a continuously evolving workforce.”

Kaplowitz and Rao formed the initiative after finding “pockets of programming at RBS” that lacked the comprehensiveness or inclusiveness of a whole group of women. They quickly received support from Laurie Platek, who sits on the Rutgers University Foundation’s Leadership Circle, and Loubna Erraji, director of the Rutgers Executive MBA Career Management and Alumni Relations.

Even at the student level, the Women in Business clubs and the Women BUILD (Business Undergraduates in Leadership Development) program are touching only a fraction of the female students within Rutgers Business School. And across Rutgers, there are nine institutes and centers under the Institute for Women’s Leadership, all of which address different aspects of women’s issues. Rutgers Business School is not part of the consortium.

“We looked at this as an opportunity,” Kaplowitz said.

They created a vision and a mission statement, and to give the initiative a meaningful structure, the women designed a thought leadership loop, encompassing alumni, corporations, faculty and students.

“We are partnering together to use the experience in business to fuel research and professional development in order to create improvements in corporations,” Kaplowitz said. “At the same time, we are bringing all of this, including our alumni’s professional expertise, back to our students to create a broader and deeper pipeline of talent as well as a continuous feedback loop for all of us.”

Rutgers Business School's women's initiative
More than 40 women gathered in a conference room overlooking Manhattan to learn more about the Rutgers Business School Women's Initiative.

The initiative will build on existing efforts and organizations at Rutgers Business School and Rutgers University to empower more women, both students and alumnae, in bigger and bolder ways – with mentoring, workshops, scholarships, case competitions and conferences.

Rao, who took charge of Women BUILD five years ago, said she has seen the transformative power of the program that exists to build confidence and skills in a group of young women who support and empower each other and are cultivated by a larger community of professional women.

“We hope to build on the program’s success and extend its reach beyond high-achieving undergraduates,” Rao said. “We also hope to fuel research and professional development programs by working to address larger problems, including the gender wage gap.”

The women who created the initiative are asking Rutgers alumni to fill seats on an advisory board that will direct the initiative’s efforts. One of the first projects will be a women’s conference in 2020. 

Mission: Develop women business leaders by removing barriers and empowering them with the confidence and expertise necessary to enter and succeed in a continuously evolving workforce.

During the event in New York City, Rutgers Business School Dean Lei Lei cited some numbers to show why nurturing young women to be confident in their leadership ability is necessary. Women make up nearly half of the workforce, but only 5 percent of them occupy the corner office in a company, Lei said.

“The business world needs you,” she said.

While the statistics resonated with the crowd, the most powerful endorsement of the initiative and its mission came from a current student and a new graduate, both of whom said the Women BUILD organization was a pivotal point in their college careers.

The students also offered proof of the importance of BUILD and why its work deserves to be expanded.

Simi Sharma, a senior finance student who will go to work at Blackstone after graduation, said she never realized the importance or the power of a women’s network before her involvement in Women BUILD.

Sharma described the experience of being empowered by older members who “pushed” her to network, to interview, to realize her potential. Women BUILD, she said, takes sophomores and shows them that “there’s a world out there where they can excel.”

Diana Cohn, a 2018 graduate of Rutgers Business School who is working at Goldman Sachs, provided more inspiration to a crowd audibly moved by her words. An immigrant from Colombia who came to the U.S. at 13, Cohn said there is nothing more humbling than looking at who you are and where you’ve come from.

“I didn’t get to Goldman Sachs because of my family,” she said. “I got there because of the tools I gained at Rutgers Business School and the people around me who helped me to reach my full potential.”

Both Cohn and Sharma said preserving their networks and helping young women behind them are even more important as they begin their careers. “We need programs like this to show that women are capable of succeeding and shaping the world,” Sharma said.

Rutgers University alumni interested in getting involved in the Rutgers Business School Women’s Initiative may contact Lisa Kaplowitz at

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