Elizabeth "Betsy" Latimer Jaffe (HRPBA 1962)
"I did have more confidence, and I did try other fields . . . . The discipline of the WAC program helped me with the doctoral program later . . . in writing my doctoral dissertation."
Betsy Jaffe is founder and president of Career Continuum, a New York career consulting firm, and author of “Altered Ambitions: What's Next in Your Life” (published, 1991). After HBPBA she went on to get her Ed.D at Columbia University. She started her career in retail as a department store buyer, and has used her experiences to consult, teach, and write on career management issues. Betsy Jaffe also worked for Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advisory organization that strives to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women and business.
It was 1961 when I went to A&S, and I saw that there was a young man there who had gotten an MBA at Wharton who made more money than I did, even though he had no experience. So that was kind of a trigger for me to say, “Hey, men are getting further than women and this isn't fair.” And he was making, I don't know, I think I made $95 a week and he made $125 or something. And so I knew of somebody who had been through the Harvard Radcliffe program, and I talked to her about it, and she raved about.
And one of the women from the program came to New York to interview me. So she kind of knew what she was getting. I guess I was a little bit older than some of the people, but there were a few that were even older than I there in that year. That was 1961-62.
HRPBA & HBS Experience
At Harvard, I was impressed with the fact that we had the same professors that the men had. It didn't even occur to me at the time that they had this separate program for women and that wasn't there, but I wasn't thinking that way. I was just happy to be there and to be studying business topics because I'd been an art major in college. So I'd gone into business without any real training except some job experience. So the courses were challenging, and I met a lot of wonderful women there, and the WAC [Written Analysis of Cases] in particular was a challenge.
And of course I met my future husband there at a David Ogilvy speech at the cocktail party afterwards. He said he saw me across a crowded room and came over and invited me to a party. So that's how we met. And he had dated a lot of program girls.
We decided--he was in the midst of his doctorate, and he had four different supervisors over the years. It took him twelve years to get it. So during that time, we figured we'd have a better chance of him finishing it if we went to a quiet place like Storrs, Connecticut. So he became a professor there and I completed my MBA. I was the first woman and the only woman in their MBA program, which was attended mostly by Air Force officers who were older, but it was fine. I was pleased and proud of that, and then I went to work.
They accepted my credits from the HRPBA program and I started studying in I think September. I didn't have to go for the summer part, and it took me around nine months to finish. I was a marketing major there, and I did some independent study, research of a new big store that had moved in and changed the community, the impact on the community of that store so I was using some of the things I'd learned at the program as well as stretching further. And I still had an interest in retailing. I did, when I finished the MBA, interview in insurance companies and other kinds of companies that were in the Hartford area.
I loved mentoring people, training people. I set up little programs for individual assistant buyers and I would say, "Well, this one needs a fashion sense, so we'll do some things to help her with that. This one needs math help. And you know. So I enjoy developing people. So I went and took a, I guess a certificate program at NYU in training and development, and left Gimbels, and wanted to switch into that field. I talked to Bloomingdales and they said, “Well, you're five years ahead of us. We're not into management development yet.” And I read this ad for Catalyst which sounded, you know, like a women/work combination. I took less money to go there, but it was very exciting, very stimulating. It was the beginning of the women's movement, they'd had these marches in New York, and I was new to that. I'd had my head into work and so wasn't too much aware of the women's movement going on, but once I got there I mean I was set on fire, and I persuaded Catalyst to go to the Women's Year in Houston where they had Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem…thousands of women.
I started at Catalyst in 1977. So the women that were hired there at the same time I was became my best friends. I'm still friends with them. She hired wonderful people, but there was a lot of turnover. I stayed there five years. I was part of the Women Directors Roundtable, helped facilitate that. We pulled women directors from all the corporations together for a topic, and they met each other and networked. And I did a lot on starting corporate networks inside corporations. I would bring groups of women together and teach them what was going on with the most progressive companies, and bring those women as speakers, and not really the direction Catalyst wanted to go. It was a little, like, radical. But it caught on.
My book is called “Altered Ambitions: What's Next in Your Life?” It was primarily for women, even though it's very helpful to men too, the ideas, but it was, you know, you come to a point in your life where things must change. Things can't go on as they are, and here are some processes that might be helpful for you. We had five model women of different types in it, and their problems and progress through each chapter. So each woman was a composite of many of the women that I've met over the years.
Interview by Barbara Rimbach, March 27, 2000. Harvard-Radcliffe Program in Business Administration Oral History Project, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.