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Training Women for Leadership

When it began nearly 30 years ago, Smith’s Executive Education for Women program consisted of a single summer session, the Smith College Consortium, a highly regarded seminar that invited a couple dozen women to campus to network with other business leaders and gain effective leadership skills.

Over the years, Executive Ed has added new sessions, such as the Smith-Tuck Global Leaders Program, in late June, which partners the college with Dartmouth’s renowned school of business in an intensive seminar for women in executive positions. And it has cultivated partnerships among several corporations that take Smith faculty members and consultants on-site at companies such as Johnson & Johnson to address specific needs of female managers.

But in the past few years, Smith’s Executive Ed has accelerated the pattern of growth that began in its early years. The summer consortium remains the program’s mainstay. But Executive Ed has recently broadened its purview, expanded its enrollment, increased its corporate partnerships and built its intake to $1.5 million in revenue last year.

Executive Ed now operates half a dozen sessions—each one distinct—for women leaders in the corporate world. Next week, for the first time during spring break, Executive Ed will host a second session of From Specialist to Strategist: Business Excellence for Women in Science, Technology and Engineering, in partnership with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Forty-two women will be on campus for the five-day event that gives women engineers the tools to advance to positions of leadership. The spring break session was added due to popular demand, said Iris Marchaj, director of the program since 2001.

“We’ve created a model that really works,” said Marchaj of the program. “Our corporate partners report that their managers who attend our programs advance two to three times more often than their peers. A typical comment is, ‘I’m going back with so much more confidence as a leader.’ By the end of their program, these women don’t want to leave Smith.”

The Smith Management Program (SMP), as it was originally named, began at Smith in 1979, when President Jill Ker Conway sought a program at Smith similar to other top schools, in which relationships with women leaders could be forged and the college could help guide women toward leadership positions.

In early June, Executive Ed offers another session of From Specialist to Strategist: Business Excellence for Women in Science, Technology and Engineering; and recently added the Next Generation Bioscience Leaders program, which debuted last January in Claremont, Calif., and invites female managers in pharmaceutical, medical and biotechnology to hone their leadership skills for advancement.
“Things are working well now with Executive Ed,” said Marchaj. “But more than that, more than the program’s success, is the contact we’re making with women leaders, with corporations.”

Though Smith’s executive program curriculum operates similarly to those at Duke University and Dartmouth, Executive Ed for Women has distinguished itself from the beginning as a more inclusive experience for its attendees, said Marchaj. “We look at the whole person in our programs,” she said. “We are interested in your mind, body and spirit. What’s different about this program is we are doing the latest work for advancing women. And we create a specialized environment just by getting women together. When women are put into the right learning environment with other women, there’s more risk-taking, more confidence building, and more comfort with being just who you are.”

The Executive Ed program also offers Smith students the opportunity each year to serve in internships with the program and in the process develop valuable relationships via their interactions with executives. “Interns clamor to work here,” said Marchaj, “ and several have been hired directly from their job here.”

And the program puts Smith on the map for women in powerful positions.

“We specialize in one thing and one thing only: the strategic leadership development of women,” said Marchaj. “We work with high-achieving women, who continue to advance in their careers after attending one of our programs. And these high-powered women are getting to know what Smith is all about.”

According to Marchaj, the expansion of Executive Ed is not finished. She is investigating possibilities of hosting customized programs in Europe. And following the program’s recent admission to UNICON (University Consortium of Executive Education programs), requests for partnerships have increased significantly, from the University of Hawaii, for example, the Brookings Institute, and a university in China.



3/13/08   By Eric Sean Weld
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