It's that time of year again, when long-time member companies, Accenture, Johnson & Johnson, Chubb Group of Companies and MetLife, will send a cohort of 60 high potential female directors to Northampton, Massachusetts to attend the Smith College Leadership Consortium, a two-week executive education program for women that starts July 22. These star companies who have been ranked among Diversity Inc's top 50 companies have partnered with Smith College because they understand the business imperative to retain, develop and advance their female talent.
In many cases, women still work in male-dominated cultures and environments. They, knowingly or unknowingly, face barriers to realizing their full potential and advancing their careers. According to the McKinsey 2011 report, lack of role models, exclusion from informal networks, not having sponsors in upper management, and women’s self-limiting beliefs are among the barriers that women experience. The Smith program affords women the opportunity to share their experiences and strategies and break through some of these barriers.
“Being educated with women allows you to be a little more open with your ideas and insights. I don’t need to be concerned about whether this sounds too soft. These ‘soft’ traits, a consultative approach, are what our global business needs,” says Michelle Middleton, Senior Vice President of Chubb Group of Companies who attended the program several years ago and was on last year’s senior executive panel.
The leadership consortium brings together world class thought leaders from top-tier business schools such as Tuck Executive Education at Dartmouth, Stanford University and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. The faculty teach classes on strategy, innovation, corporate finance, gender and negotiation, and cross-cultural communication. It’s seems like a typical array of topics for an executive education program presented by any top business school, but that is just part of what will be covered in the two weeks at Smith.
“What’s atypical is that this program is 100% focused on women’s advancement,” says Iris Newalu, director of Smith’s Executive Education program,“and at Smith we do things differently.”
The Smith-corporate partnership is designed to build companies’ female leadership pipeline. The program, now in its 15th year, was founded on the promise of delivering a holistic approach to executive education for women. The two weeks of intense programming weave together a solid academic curriculum with daily reflection periods on work-life integration, a senior executive panel on career management strategies, a presentation on women’s health, and a networking environment that allows opportunities for candor and self-disclosure, unlike those of mixed gender programs.
In a recent orientation call with Accenture, Lisa Grill, a participant from 2011, recalled how "two weeks is a substantial time...you get to know the women, you build bonds of trust, and you become open to sharing and learning and taking risks."
To add pizazz to the occasion, women will attend an exclusive reception hosted by Smith College President Carol Christ at her campus residence overlooking Paradise Pond. And during the second week, they will enjoy a private reception at Eileen Fisher’s boutique in downtown Northampton. “It’s going to be an amazing and fun two weeks,” remarks Newalu,“to witness the energy, power, and transformation of a group of highly motivated and smart women… who will undoubtedly also enjoy shopping!”
The 60 executive women will be staying at the historic Hotel Northampton in downtown Northampton and will enjoy a 10-minute walk to campus everyday carrying their Smith-signature program totes. In the evenings, they will make the most of networking dinners with their peers. The combination of intellectually stimulating topics in business, the relaxed pace of a quaint New England town that encourages reflection and Smith’s optimal environment for women’s empowerment is what produces maximum impact.
That is why, every year, member companies reward their most promising women leaders with a special opportunity to accelerate their leadership development and enhance their performance impact at work.