This weekend, faculty, fellows, mentors, and volunteers met by Zoom to officially launch the coming year’s Women in Leadership program. In the words of Program Director Dr. Asha Rao, Women in Leadership (WIL) is “all about giving women the opportunity, the training, and the network to lead. And the idea is,” she added, “that if they can lead, they can actually help lead others, and create more gender equity so that we have leadership at the top.”
In his opening remarks, CSUEB Provost Dr. Edward Inch spoke to the continued need for gender equality in the business world, from equal pay to equal representation in the “C Suite”. “We’re not there yet,” he said, “and it’s not going to happen unless we have concerted efforts. So I am so appreciative to be part of the program today.” He added that a program like this is especially important at CSU East Bay. “East Bay has the reach … to be able to connect women with opportunities and mentorship networks at a critical stage, when they’re still evolving and understanding what their role in the workplace will look like.”
“[The program] really aligns with everything we do in the college,” said CBE Dean Dr. George Low. “It engages the business community, the women executives, our alumni — it connects our students with mentors.”
Women in Leadership has come a long way since it debuted its pilot program last year. Dr. Rao outlined the changes that have been made to the program in response to participants’ feedback. The main thing? “We have far more structure,” Dr. Rao said. To that end, she explained, the program fellows have each created an individual development plan that will guide their work. She emphasized the importance of frequent mentee-mentor meetings in creating strong, lasting relationships, and noted that this year, the mentor/mentee matches weren’t made solely based on a shared industry — they were made based on an alignment of the participants’ needs, wants, and personalities.
The first of two guest speakers at the launch, Amy Schioldager is the retired Senior Managing Director and Global Head of Beta Strategies at BlackRock, and has been volunteering her expertise to WIL since it began. A seasoned veteran of the boardroom, Schioldager shared her insight into what it takes to achieve a board position. According to Schioldager, networking is critical — in fact, “83% of board positions are found through the network.” It can also help to attend classes on the subject, whether at Stanford, Harvard, or somewhere more affordable. Furthermore, she explained, your elevator pitch is critical: it should be short and to the point, and communicate what makes you unique. “People talk about it in terms of your superpowers. And I like that term, as a woman, you know — we all have superpowers.”
The second guest speaker of the morning was Rupal Hollenbeck, who co-teaches one of the WIL seminars with Dr. Rao, and has held leadership positions at Intel and Oracle. Hollenbeck shared her expertise on the subject of mentorship, which she describes as a “two-way value exchange”, stating, “It’s a project — it’s not something passive.” She added that mentorship thrives on structure and “deliberate, intentional action”. In other words, you get what you put in. Hollenbeck urged the listening fellows to work with their mentors both on leveraging their strengths and on shoring up their perceived deficits.
Now that the program’s second year is underway, CBE has big plans for its expansion. The WIL program in 2020–2021 currently plans to serve up to 20 fellows with professional mentors and includes two Women in Leadership-focused courses with twenty planned C-Suite speakers, but this is only the beginning. “Our goal is to ultimately have a self-funding Women in Leadership Institute to support our students and our community,” Dr. Rao said. “Growing this has been a phenomenal experience,” she added, “and I’ve got to say that what keeps me going is the enthusiasm that I get from all of you.”
For more information on the program, please visit Women in Leadership Program, CBE.