Successful Orthodox Business Women Share Insights at Sy Syms School of Business Event

Rona Rubin of Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals at recent Sy Syms School of Business event discussing the challenges, and rewards, of balancing family, religious, and professional lives.

Apr 4, 2006 — Orthodox women today are pushing their way into business and succeeding –– despite the challenges –– said five women who came to a Sy Syms School of Business presentation at the Beren Campus in March.

The women, representing fashion, accounting, human resources, pharmaceuticals, and advertising, shared their message with more than 100 student and staff representatives from Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School in Teaneck, NJ; Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls in Hewlett Bay Park, NY; SAR High School in Riverdale, NY; Hebrew Academy of Nassau County; North Shore Hebrew Academy High School in Great Neck, NY; and Yeshiva University High School for Girls in Queens, NY.

“This is the first time we have done this program, and we are extremely happy with the turnout and results,” said Ira Jaskoll, acting dean of the Sy Syms School of Business. “The purpose of the event was to have yeshiva high school girls start thinking about opportunities in business. All too often, they believe it is impossible to succeed in business while trying to maintain a balance in their personal and family lives.”

Although they are all in different sectors of the business world, Janet Riesel of Ernst & Young, Rona Rubin of Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals, Sarah Klayn of Deloitte & Touche, Rachael Weber of Liz Claiborne, and Suzy Schwartz of BBDO agreed that juggling religious, family, and business life can be difficult, but also extremely rewarding.

Sarah Klayn, a graduate of Sy Syms School of Business, said she chose a career in accounting because she wanted a large enough income to handle yeshiva tuition, yet also a flexible field which could afford time to spend with family as well. But some of the other presenters said they fell into business careers or started out in one business field but found another to be more accommodating to their religious and family choices.

All of the participants said that their colleagues respected and even appreciated their religious convictions. They discussed how traveling was rarely a problem because kosher food is available everywhere and co-workers can understand religious convictions if they are explained. “We are in a generation that respects diversity,” said Ms. Riesel, a graduate of YU High School for Girls.

Suzy Schwartz, the keynote speaker at the event, observed that many people in the business world don’t know a lot about Judaism. “You will have to be doing a lot of educating,” Mrs. Schwartz said.

The women spoke about the need to be flexible. While many large companies today have programs to retain career women, each of the women talked about putting in her time at the beginning and paying her dues. Ms. Rubin, a graduate of Sy Syms School of Business, started out in consulting, but found the travel and time commitment to be incompatible with raising a family. “It is up to you to create the flexibility for yourself,” she said.

Ms. Klayn talked about redefining herself in light of her many roles. “I am an employee at Deloitte & Touche 24-7, a wife and mother 24-7, and an Orthodox Jew 24-7. I don’t shut myself down to work when I’m at home, just like I don’t shut myself down to my family when I’m at work.”

Ms. Schwartz also touched on the issue, saying she doesn’t want to be seen as mother or a Jew when she is at work. “One should be evaluated on the professional playing field.”

All of the women addressed having few role models to draw from. But Ms. Schwartz urged the high school students not to let that stop them. “Do not think that just because you don’t know another frum woman in a career path that it is not open to you,” she urged. “Do not let being frum women hold you back from exploring.”

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