Woman’s Leadership Programs

Companies will often use external, university-based programs as a way to develop their high potential senior leaders. These programs typically are 1-2 weeks in duration and offer an intense (and expensive) learning experience.
According to Iris Marchaj, Director of Smith Executive Education, “99% of leadership development programs offered by elite business schools are male-oriented…which is precisely why they fail when it comes to leadership learning for women!”
Woman’s leadership programs can be effective because they create an environment where woman are more comfortable taking risks and focus on leadership issues unique to woman. They also provide an opportunity to network with peers and form life-long bonds.

These programs can often always stir up a little controversy. The debate usually centers on challenging the need for “special” programs for woman. I’ve actually heard this more from woman, although I’m sure some men are thinking the same thing but don’t speak up. In fact, I’m surprised some idiot hasn’t filed a “Hooter’s” kind of reverse-discrimination lawsuit.

If you’re going to offer a woman’s leadership programs, here are some things to consider that would help address these issues and ensure program success:
– Offer leadership programs for all groups
– Give woman a choice – either or both
– Evaluate the programs – talk to women who have attended, and determine if they are right for you or your company, and continue to monitor

– Allow influential woman leaders to make the final decision, and encourage them to be sponsors and advocates
– Form internal graduate network groups
– Encourage graduates to apply what they’re learned to a company sponsored internal project

I’ve had the pleasure to manage and be associated with a number of woman’s executive development programs. Here’s a summary of the ones I’ve used and would highly recommend:

Smith CollegeAt my last company, we were a member of the Smith College Leadership Consortium. A handful of companies (Johnson & Johnson, MetLife, JP Morgan Chase, Eastman Kodak, and others) sent groups of mid to senior level woman leaders to this two-week, custom program. It always proved to be an outstanding development experience for some of our best woman leaders, and I feel it helped with retention as well. Smith also offers the open-enrollment Smith-Tuck Global Leadership Program for Woman.
UCLA’s Anderson School of Business Leadership Suite
The UCLA Leadership Suite is composed of four programs designed to enhance the management and leadership skills of specific groups of managers and high potentials. The programs examine management and leadership issues from the perspective of each of four audiences: African American; Latino; women; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender managers. I’ve sent executives to all four programs, and all received rave reviews.

The Center for Creative Leadership: The Woman’s Leadership Program
The Women’s Leadership Program, designed for and staffed by women, brings together the powerful assessment and feedback tools found in other Center programs, coupled with research-based content that centers on issues and perceptions unique to women. CCL’s programs are always top-notch.

What are your thoughts on woman’s leadership programs? Do they foster inclusion or exclusion? What are the potential advantages and disadvantages?