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New Emphasis on Students at WLI

Early Lessons in Leadership
Written by: 
Maura King Scully

With women comprising 47 percent of the American work force, it is tempting to think that gender parity crosses every metric. Reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest otherwise.

Data compiled in 2008 show that women make 80 cents for every dollar that men earn. And they work longer — an average of three years, says the National Center for Education Statistics  — to land the promotions that lead to higher pay.

“Despite our advances, it’s still not a level playing field,” says Bentley parent Elaine Haney, president of online obituary news site Tributes Inc. and an Advisory Council member for the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) at Bentley. “It is important to nurture young women leaders who are up and coming.”

With that goal in mind, the WLI held its first event developed specially for undergraduate women. The program -- Introducing Bentley’s Future Women Leaders – took place in April 2010. President Gloria Cordes Larson headlined as keynote speaker, addressing some 70 undergraduate women leaders selected to attend by faculty and administrators. 

Model Behavior

In addition to tracing her own career path, Larson highlighted a model of “centered leadership” developed by international consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

“It focuses on positive approaches to leadership – techniques that can be learned and reinforced from the very beginning of your professional career,” she said of the model, which evolved from interviews with 85 successful women. Working across career fields and around the globe, the women described what motivates and sustains them in professional life.

“The McKinsey study found that people with strong networks and good mentors enjoy more promotions, higher pay and greater career satisfaction,” Larson continued. “Having a strong mentor early in my own career was probably the single biggest factor in who I am as a professional today.”

The presentation set the stage for lively table discussions, facilitated by faculty, administrators, and WLI Advisory Council members. Topics ranged from leadership qualities to relationship building. Two hours into the event, the place was still packed.

“Everyone was energized,” says Eliza Vincent, who joined the WLI as associate director in March 2010. “It offered a safe and productive forum for women with a variety of backgrounds to share insights and discuss career-related topics. It was inspirational to see.”

Expanded Focus

Founded in 2003 and directed by Associate Professor of Law Marianne DelPo Kulow, the Women’s Leadership Institute has a two-fold mission: empowering women to achieve personal and professional success, and shaping a generation of ethically and socially responsible women leaders who are ready for the challenges and opportunities of the global economy.

Much of the institute’s past research and programming has centered on rising and established female professionals. Seminars and workshops include “Gearing Up,” a conference for women in the first six to eight years of their career; “More Opportunities for Mothers,” for women balancing family and career; and “Redefining Success,” which serves senior-level executive women looking for new challenges. Last year brought a widened focus.

“The WLI decided to put undergraduates on the front end of programming,” says WLI Advisory Council member Christine Freyermuth ’94, MBA ’98. Focus groups conducted on campus identified a need to bring together corporate professionals and students.

Feedback on the event was excellent, according to Vincent, with some students gaining mentors and others landing internships. Angela Scibelli ’11 was among those who found the former: Associate Professor of Marketing Susan Dobscha.

“Sue gave me some great direction,” Scibelli says of meeting with Dobscha in the spring 2010 semester. “During my internship last summer, she suggested asking senior women to go for lunch or coffee to learn more about their career paths. That’s something I probably wouldn’t have done without her encouragement.”

Building on Success

The WLI offers three programs for current undergraduate and students in the 2010-2011 academic year. In October, the institute hosted “Shattering the Glass Ceiling – It Starts on Campus,” a workshop focused on the benefits of developing and maintaining a diverse network. April brings “View From the Top,” at which a local female CEO will talk about her career path. A speed-networking event is also planned for the spring.

“We are strategically exploring programming that will showcase WLI resources on campus and have maximum impact,” says Vincent, citing a proposed daylong conference for undergraduate and graduate students. “We want to lead the discussion on the benefits of a diverse and equal work force.”

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