Women in Leadership Workshop: A Chat with Archana Sahgal ’99

By Sofia Trigo ’20

 Archana Sahgal ’99 speaking at the 9th Women and Leadership Conference
Archana Sahgal ’99 speaking at the 9th Women and Leadership Conference

Sitting at the Athenaeum amongst powerful, determined, and ambitious women from around the country, it was hard to not to feel empowered. The 9th annual Women and Leadership Conference aimed to inspire and embrace female worth in the workplace. This year the event featured Archana Sahgal ’99, a former Obama White House official and CMC alumna. A lawyer by training and social justice entrepreneur at heart, Sahgal worked as the Senior Associate Director at the Office of Public Engagement for the Obama Administration. After her motivating talk, I had the opportunity to sit down with Archana and further discuss her ideas on women in leadership today.

Q: What does leadership look like to you?

A: “Being a leader requires setting culture and setting tone. It’s important to cultivate the kind of work environment where everyone is able to flourish in support of a common mission. Ultimately, that is the kind of leadership I am drawn to and want to support.  Traditionally, when we think about leadership, we look to the individual at the very top of the hierarchy Instead, there are different leadership models including the kind of leadership of supporting people to reach their full potential working together in service of a larger goal.”

Q: What is one piece of advice you have for young women entering the work place?

A: “The world can be harsh, and we have a long way to go in establishing equality and justice. I’d advise young women to find their inner resiliency. It is incredibly important to cultivate and nurture the ability to get back up after encountering a road block.

Q: In your athenaeum speech you talked about the discomfort many women associate with negotiating salary – can you explain this a little more?  

A: There are plenty of barriers in this world to closing the gender pay gap so it’s particularly important to recognize that negotiating a salary is an art and a skill you can develop.  In order to have a successful salary negotiation, it’s important to research industry standards as well as practice negotiating by conducting a role play and even develop talking points. Discussing money is often perceived as taboo which is why I’m grateful for the Women’s Leadership Workshop for providing hard skills like salary negotiation  to CMC students and alum.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: “I’m committed to working in social justice realm. Right now, I am working as a consultant for a global foundation to deepen the #MeToo movement. It’s been incredibly fulfilling and exciting to be working during this “movement moment” to unlock resources that directly support feminist organizing and culture change. I’ve also been craving to build and create something; perhaps that is starting a fund or creating a new nonprofit or going deeper on an issue. One thing I know for sure is that I want to continue to try and have an impact and make a difference on the world.”

Sitting and talking with Archana really prompted me to think about my future and potential career path. As a woman, Archana’s messages about embracing self-worth and uplifting other members of the community really spoke to me. Indeed, thinking about women in the workplace more broadly in turn helped me think about my personal professional future. Perhaps what struck me most, however, were the numerous individuals who approached Archana amid our chat, eager to thank her for the earlier speech. Women at the conference were incredibly grateful to have someone advocate for women in the workplace – especially in male dominated fields like politics, government, and law. It became obvious, then, that Archana’s talk resonated with so many because it truly captured pivotal themes of self-worth and gender equality.