Weaving personal growth into professional success was one of the main themes at this year’s annual Columbia Women in Business (CWIB) conference held on February 20. The conference brought hundreds of alumnae and professional women together for more than a dozen panels.

“We are entering a phase where we are delving into much deeper civic engagement,” said Paula Kerger, CEO of PBS, in her keynote address. “It’s important to get outside your work experience to get perspective. Engage with your relationships, family, life and community.”

The day’s panels addressed the work-life matrix through different lenses, including Wall Street, corporate social responsibility and all-female industries.

Across the panels several common threads emerged. Good relationships — both in and out of the office — are key to success; the definition of success is constantly evolving; and the importance for women to develop specific skill sets.

“I realized how important it’s been to have partners in other parts of the bank,” said panelist Chandra Metzler, a director at Deutsche Bank, when speaking about how the banking crisis has impacted her job. “It’s been important to have people to talk to because you have already-established relationships.”

That theme was also discussed in the “Creating Champions and Allies” panel, in which participants advocated a 360-degree approach to developing allies, encouraging the attendees to “champion above, down and around.”

On the subject of networking and career development, Merle Duskin Kailas, executive director of the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation, advised the audience, “Develop a skill set early in your career. Always remain on the credit-side of every equation.”

Where can career seekers find opportunity? Lisa Carnoy CC ’89, managing director and head of global equity capital markets at Bank of America, told audience members at the “Banking in High Heels” panel that it is still an opportune time to begin a career in finance.

“It is a fantastic time to join banking,” Carnoy said. “You will be pulled up faster on the upside — which will inevitably be more extreme the next time — than if you joined in a more robust period. It takes guts and long-term perspective.”

Photo courtesy of PBS/Columbia Women in Business