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Women LEAD (Leading through Empowerment Affiliations and Development)  

SM2incWomenLeadImageOur last Women LEAD Program of the semester was held on March 24th, a Thursday.  Ilene Lang was our speaker.  There was a limit on the number of participants for this program, and the available seats were filled via online RSVP within a few days. 

If you were unable to attend this event, but would like to learn about what Amy shared regarding leadership through a woman's lens, please see the notes below.

Ilene Lang, March 24th Lunch and LEAD Speaker

 Themes 

  • Plan to work where you know you will be valued for what you have to offer
  • Improving the work experience for women will improve society
  • There is still significant disparity between women and men in the workplace when it comes to pay and leadership
  • How organizations support and encourage leadership, especially female leadership, is important

Presentation overview

The March Women LEAD Program featured Ilene H. Lang, President and CEO of Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that leads the field in advancing women in leadership.  She blogs on CatalyZing and for the Huffington Post and is recognized as a pioneering woman executive in her own right, while supporting other women in various sectors and organizations.  For more information on Ilene’s background please see her complete bio on the Catalyst website.  Accompanying Ilene during the program was Jim Turley, Chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young, Chairman of the Board of Catalyst, and member of the Rice Board of Trustees.  During their conversation Ilene was able to provide insight into the research and work that is being done to support women’s advancement in the workplace, while Jim provided a corporate perspective.

Following the welcome, Ilene opened the discussion by providing some advice.  She told participants, “You have a lot of talent and education, you want to work where someone values you and there’s great opportunity for you.”  To do this, she recommended that women look for places of employment where women leaders are valued.  Ilene provided some background on her organization and their mission of “Changing workplaces, Changing lives.”  Catalyst aims to improve workplaces and lives, especially around challenging gender stereotypes, achieving pay equity and work-life effectiveness, and by implementing programs proven to advance women into business leadership.

Ilene explained that today, more than 50% of doctoral degrees are earned by women. Women are nearly 50% of the workforce and comprise more than 50% of management, professional and related occupations—and have been so for many years— but women make up only 15% of senior leadership positions. From a fair wage perspective, Ilene put the situation into perspective.  She told participants that, due to the gender pay gap (women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man), in a woman’s life she will make $1-2 million less because she is a woman. 

From a corporate perspective, Jim recommends that participants look at potential companies carefully.  Consider the makeup of those in senior leadership positions because this demonstrates how much women are valued.  Jim went on to discuss that research has shown that the more women you have in senior leadership, the more financially successful a company typically is.  He followed this up by saying that diversity in numbers is critical, but having an inclusive culture is the other key piece. He and Ilene discussed research from Northwestern University finding that diverse teams outperform homogenous teams—while they may be tougher to work on, the work is worth the effort. The leader of the future is focused on diversity and inclusion. 

Through discussion with participants, Ilene and Jim answered questions and addressed a variety of topics.  One issue discussed was stereotypes, and the issues that abound when women do not conform to them or when the actions of one woman are stereotyped to the entire gender.  Ilene suggested that women advocate for one another by reinforcing that one woman’s actions do not speak for all women.  Jim made the point that stereotypes of women are often held by women as well as men and the importance of trying to address this at all levels of an organization. 

Ilene also discussed how companies can better retain the talented women in their ranks. Companies should provide greater flexibility for all employees and increase opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship.

 One student asked about how to politely insert their opinion in a meeting situation and have their thoughts valued.  Jim acknowledged that this is a very real issue and that as leaders we have to help others be heard.  He said inclusion is important, and you are not being inclusive if not everyone gets to speak.  He recommends keeping a list of who has spoken as a way of insuring full participation.  He went on to say that culture is not about treating people equally, it’s about treating people equitably. 

In wrapping up the discussion, Ilene recommended some resources for the participants, including:

 

Ilene closed by reiterating how important it is for women, especially young women, to be aware and prepared for sexism in the workplace, and for organizations to think about how best to develop and retain female talent. Following Ilene’s speech, participants had the opportunity to share their business cards and network with other participants.   Individuals who wish to learn more about leadership programs sponsored by Student Activities should visit http://studentactivities.rice.edu/leadership.