Last April, I blogged about my reflections on the status of women in business schools. My post followed various meetings I’d had with a range of corporate leaders, Admirals in the Navy, and senior counselors in the White House. I was struck by the unanimity with which they expressed the need to develop more women in the rising generation of leaders. I concluded that there is increased consensus regarding the importance of gender diversity and inclusion in American business society and that no one thinks the progress is acceptable—nor do I.
Women hold up half the sky, but they account for only a small fraction of senior and middle-managers, corporate directors, partners of professional service firms, entrepreneurs, etc. The reasons for this have to do with cultural, legal, and economic factors, many of which seem to be changing. Although the women’s movement, which began several decades ago, has led to increased opportunities for women, there still needs to be a larger societal commitment to developing extraordinary women leaders. This development should begin in early childhood and progress through post-secondary education. Leading business schools have a vital role to play.
Where is Darden in this? In 2015, Darden will celebrate 50 years of women business leaders. We want Darden to be the go-to place for women executives of exceptional talent and promise. We have undertaken a range of initiatives to prepare women for leadership in business. Let me describe these.
As preface to this sketch it is useful to state the obvious: schools will find it easy to do something—the question is, “Are schools doing the right things, to ensure that women are well-prepared to excel in business school and in the business world?” As I discussed earlier, b-schools are focused on trying to determine what is right. Therefore, this feels like a pivotal moment. No less is happening within Darden. There is no checklist, guidebook, or user’s manual that dictates what business schools should do right. Thus, Darden is intentionally trying a range of experiments, projects, and prototypes. Distinguishing doing the right thing from doing just something is our intention – both within Darden and in the world of practice. This requires careful design and evaluation that inform ongoing efforts. What follows is not just a list of some things, but rather our path toward the right things.
Consider these activities under three umbrellas:
· Educating women about business school and encouraging them to enroll at Darden.
· Providing opportunities for women to develop as leaders while they are students at Darden. The necessary conditions for development are intrinsic motivation and opportunity, which is why we emphasize “opportunities.”
· Empowering women graduates of Darden to advance their careers through networking and professional development
1. Darden aims to educate women about business school and to encourage them to enroll.
Program for Prospective Student Women. Darden is known for having a tight-knit community. In order to give women in the pipeline a more personalized introduction, the Office of Admissions and the Graduate Women in Business club offer the 1:1 Program for prospective women students. The program pairs prospects with a current woman student mentor in late summer to facilitate a one-on-one connection with a member of the Darden community. Previous participants have found that this is not only an excellent way to learn about the School, the student community and the myriad academic opportunities and resources but also to explore the many issues facing women pursuing graduate business education.
Sponsor of the Forté Foundation. Darden is proud to be a founding partner of the Forté Foundation, a non-profit consortium of top companies and leading business schools committed to helping women pursue leadership roles in business. While every woman at Darden can join Forté, each member school also has the opportunity to select Forté Fellows, who receive merit-based scholarships based on their outstanding professional, academic, and personal accomplishments. In addition to the financial support provided through fellowships awarded by individual Forté member schools ($45MM in scholarships awarded to 2,300+ recipients), Fellows gain exposure to leading companies in the Forté network, as well as an immediate peer group of Fellows that extends beyond their individual business school. Darden typically has approximately 40 Fellows per academic year. All women at Darden with a $10,000 scholarship or greater are Forté Fellows.
2. Darden provides opportunities for women to develop as leaders while they are students.
Darden’s student club, Graduate Women in Business (GWiB), is leading a range of initiatives.
- Mentoring program. Each year, First Year (FY) and Second Year (SY) female students are paired up as mentor and mentee. This provides incoming women with a resource to ask any and all questions they may have – from how to best prepare a case to getting ready for an interview.
- Relationships across Grounds. GWiB has connected with the University of Virginia McIntire School of Commerce’s women students in a networking and mentoring capacity. Seven Darden women sat on a panel hosted by McIntire to discuss the process of applying for graduate business school.
- Annual conference and workshops. GWiB is active in sponsoring a well-attended annual conference, which often features alumnae in key speaking roles. They also sponsor smaller workshops and panels throughout the academic year. Additionally, GWiB held a negotiations workshop with Professor Melissa Thomas-Hunt to teach students how to become better at negotiating their pay/salary/signing offers.
- Friends of GWiB. The impetus for the program was for women students to invite their male peers to be involved in the conversation about women in the workplace. Men have always been welcome to join as traditional GWiB members, but this initiative was developed to actively seek them out. Some of the goals and activities include: educating male peers on what exactly women discuss when they gather in professional settings and educate them on general “workplace issues”; including faculty members who have had a breadth of experience and could provide an alternate view and voice to the conversation.
- Points of contact. GWiB has a 1:1 program that matches prospective women applicants with current women students.
- C-suite contacts. Several prominent alumnae have reached out to GWiB to host small group gatherings in Charlottesville to provide engaging conversation and advice.
Women in Success Seminar (Professors Luann Lynch and Mary Margaret Frank). A popular seminar last academic year, it entailed field interviews of men and women business leaders; class discussions of readings on women leaders and the challenges facing women in leadership (such as Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In); and essays on women leaders and personal reflections on success.
NOLS Leadership Program. Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne led a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) leadership program that took place in January. Each student had the opportunity to lead a daily expedition in the Arizona desert. Thirteen students attended (7 men and 6 women) and one alumna. The course focused on developing leadership through leveraging diversity and inclusion.
Newly Transformed Career Education for All Current Students. A series of discovery forums take place the first week on Grounds for FY students. The forums include:
· Perspectives on Career Success
· Being an Adviser to Corporations: Careers in Consulting and Investment Banking
· Becoming a Corporate Leader I: Careers in Marketing, Strategy and Business Development
· Becoming a Corporate Leader II: Careers in Finance, Operations and Supply
· Becoming an Owner: Paths to Consider Now and in the Future
· Mission-Driven and Global Opportunities: Perspectives from Darden’s Institute for Business in Society and Center for Global Initiatives
Second Year Coaches. A unique feature of Darden’s career development offerings is the SY Coaches program. In addition to being assigned a professional, functionally-aligned career advisor, all FY students are assigned a SY coach based on various industry categories.
Leadership Speaker Series. Darden actively seeks to bring to Grounds women who are role models of leadership. Four of the nine speakers last academic year were women:
Martina Hund-Mejean (MBA ’88), Chief Financial Officer of MasterCard Worldwide; Carolyn Miles (MBA ’88), President & CEO of Save the Children; Lorna Donatone, Chief Operating Officer, Sodexho; and Sharon Decker, Secretary of Commerce of the State of North Carolina.
Surveys of the Experience of Women Students and Alumnae. We conducted focus group meetings on the experiences of women in their learning teams. In addition, we prepared a survey with GWiB of SY women about their FY experience. Darden’s alumnae are more engaged than the alumnae population of business schools in general.
Women@Darden Initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to examine and recommend actions to improve the quality of the Darden experience for prospective and current women students and alumnae. We are at the beginning stages of an enterprise-wide effort to engage faculty, staff, alumnae and other key stakeholders on how Darden can bolster our women students and alumnae. Under the umbrella of a steering committee, three sub-committees will examine:
· Women student recruitment and admission. Increasing the number and quality of women students is very important to sustaining the strength of Darden’s learning experience. We will focus on increasing the number and quality of women prospectives applying to Darden. The aim is to increase the number of women students enrolled in all of Darden’s MBA programs.
· The experience of women both inside and outside of the classroom. Improving the Darden experience for women students benefits all students. We focus on curricular and co-curricular content and student experiences. And we will consider how to increase financial aid for women students.
· Alumnae engagement. A robust alumnae engagement effort is central to honoring Darden’s mission of developing and inspiring responsible leaders and advancing knowledge. We aim to increase the quantity and quality of alumnae engagement opportunities.
3. Darden empowers alumnae to advance their careers through networking and professional development.
Darden’s Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services (ACS) provides career help for all alumni—and specific programs for assisting women:
- One-on-one Career Advising and Coaching. ACS provides unlimited number of sessions to our alumni to assist in all areas of career management with the majority of that coaching in the area of career transition. In this capacity, ACS has worked with 33% of our total number of alumnae. Coaching on how to “stay in,” “get back in,” or “rise in rank” is common.
- “Re-entering the Workforce” workshop for alumnae conducted by Darden ACS. This two-month long workshop (including pre-work, two day-long sessions and follow-up) has been delivered to over 200 participants in seven locations (Washington, D.C., Boston, NYC, London, Palo Alto, Atlanta, Chicago). The workshop includes self-assessment, evaluation of work-life fit issues, the redevelopment of one’s professional brand and job search techniques after a hiatus.
- Pay Equity. ACS and CDC coaches assist individuals one-on-one with salary negotiations – assisting in research of market rates and strategies to negotiate for the highest possible compensation often pointing out gender differences in negotiating and helping women avoid common pitfalls.
Volunteer leadership positions on Darden’s boards, advisory groups, and local clubs. We are actively recruiting alumnae into leadership positions. This affords them opportunities to network and exercise skills such as communication, advocacy, facilitation, and team-building. This summer, Elizabeth Weymouth (MBA ’94) was elected Vice Chair of the Darden School Foundation Board of Trustees. She will rise to Chair of the Board in 2016. And the Women@Darden initiative has energized more alumnae to organize new local groups.
Alumnae Engagement. Generally, we are striving to improve and strengthen Darden’s engagement with alumnae. The mission of the alumnae groups in Washington, D.C. and New York is to:
· Engage – through networking and relationship building, our objective is to keep Darden’s women support for one another strong and valuable.
· Education – through relevant and provocative presentations, readings and discussions, our goal is to keep Darden as a key component of our ongoing professional development.
· Service – through monthly interactions, our objective is to collectively create opportunities to serve the Darden community.
In addition, alumnae groups are forming in other localities.
Executive Education. Darden’s highly ranked Executive Education open-enrollment programs focus on leadership development, including The Women’s Leadership Program and The Executive Program. Other programs include: Leading Organizational Effectiveness; Managing Individual and Organizational Change; Power and Leadership: Getting Below the Surface; and Servant Leadership: A Path to High Performance.
Darden’s Class of 2014 graduated last May having achieved some milestones. These include having the highest percentage of women enrolled (35%) and the highest percentage of women in positions of leadership of clubs and student government (60%) in Darden’s history. Women presidents ran some of the School’s largest clubs, including the Consulting Club, Marketing Club, Finance Club and General Management and Operations Club.
I heard the Class of 2014 student evaluation of their learning experience at Darden: women expressed a high level of satisfaction, consistent with men. And this month, two of the three new faculty members hired this year are women—adding strength to a great team of women professors. These and other metrics suggest that Darden is making strides in contributing to the preparation of women for leadership in business. I’m pleased to report that the Class of 2016, which we enrolled last week, is poised to make its mark.
…And I would say that work remains to be done, for Darden and all b-schools. Excellence is a moving target. The initiatives that schools take today are merely a foundation for strides we must make tomorrow. What is at stake is not just the role of women, but rather the caliber of all leadership: Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, wrote, “In the future there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.”