Meet Our Executive Sponsor

Joan E. O’Neill, B.A.

Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development


Joan E. O’Neill has worked at Yale for more than twenty five years. She is responsible for leadership of all of the university’s alumni affairs and fundraising activities. Learn more about Joan.

WWN: An interview with our Executive Sponsor, Joan O’Neill

Ms. O’Neill offers insight into current support for working women at Yale as well as advice about work/life balance and professional advancement.

In your experience, what barriers have you observed, if any, do women at Yale face in terms of their access to positions of leadership?

I haven’t seen particular barriers within the administrative area in which I work.  Development is actually a great area for women, not just at Yale, but all over the country.  Fundraising as a profession has really transformed, and many women have taken on leadership roles in this field.  That being said, I have seen  individuals struggle in their current roles in not understanding what the next professional step is or how best to transition into a different job role, but this is not necessarily a difficulty experienced more by one gender.  Across the institution, there may also be bigger challenges that women face that I have not witnessed personally in my own field.

In what ways would you like to see the WWN do more to support Yale’s women employees?

The breadth of WWN programming is amazing.  What may be most important now is reaching departments across the institution in order to spread awareness of the WWN and all that it has to offer. Members of the WWN could help to create this awareness and spread the word about programming, resources and events in their individual departments. Reaching more people will ultimately allow us to identify more gaps in resources and programming where WWN can provide further assistance.

Knowing how difficult it can be to balance professional work with our personal lives, what suggestions do you have for Yale’s women employees on how to manage this?

While trying to balance everything, you ultimately have to be okay with imperfections in your professional life and personal life.  You’ll have good days in your professional life, and you’ll have good days in your personal life.  These days may not be the same days, and that is okay!  I wouldn’t call this compromise, but rather a realistic approach.  I’ve found that it is helpful to be flexible and adaptable when shifting focus from work life to personal life, and vice versa.  What is important is not giving up on this constant shift and being able to adapt to the motion as things change.

As a follow-up, how do you balance your very busy professional life with your personal life?

My approach to work/life balance can be described on a continuum, with my approach changing just after leaving college, again after being married with children, and now again since my children have grown up.  For example, when my kids were younger, many of my extracurricular activities focused on spending time with them.  Now that my children are away from home, I spend more of my time with my husband travelling and finding new activities to do together.  I expect that my approach will change again when I retire.  Regardless of where I am on this continuum, it is important to go about balancing my life in a way that is productive, healthy and meaningful to me.

What advice do you have for women looking for professional advancement, either within their current role and/or within the institution as a whole?

I would encourage you to take on new opportunities at Yale, especially those opportunities outside of your comfort zone and that depart from what you normally do.  This not only will allow you to learn more about other parts of Yale, but will foster relationships with new people who will give you new perspectives and act as a “sounding board” off of which you can bounce your ideas as well as seek advice, direction and resources. Becoming more involved will further connect you to the people and mission of the institution and infuse you with pride for your job and for Yale. All it takes is raising a hand when the opportunity arises!

Fast Facts

  • What is your idea of perfect happiness? Beach + family
  • What is your greatest extravagance? Vacation
  • What is your favorite vacation destination? Italy
  • Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “That’s wonderful!”
  • Which talent would you most like to have? Greater quantitative ability
  • What is your current state of mind? Relaxed!
  • What do you consider your greatest achievement so far? My children
  • What is your most treasured possession? My grandmother’s Christmas ornaments
  • What is your favorite occupation? My own! (fundraising and development)
  • What do you value in your friends? Flexibility and warmth
  • What is your current favorite movie? Remember the Titans
  • What is your current favorite book? The Secret Life of Bees
  • Who are your heroes in real life? Teachers
  • What is your motto, if you have one? Be true to yourself