The international eCornell’s Women in Leadership program enrolled its 1,000th student, showing the growth of this safe outlet that allows women to reflect on similar experiences in the workplace, said Prof. Deborah Streeter, personal enterprise and small business management.
Streeter, who is director of the program, said she had initially felt negatively towards online education because it seemed like a “disconnected” platform. eCornell, however, enabled her to personally create all the content for the course and simultaneously reach out to over a thousand women in various workplaces.
“My inspiration was sitting here watching the fact that women are not participating equally in the highest levels of wealth and power and I want to see that change,” she said. “I know it will be better for our economy and for businesses if there is a better gender mix at the top.”
Women in Leadership enrolls students in a five-course certificate program that is “extremely private and customized,” allowing women across the world who may not have access to such education and community to acquire practical workplace skills like negotiation and understanding personality types, Streeter explained.
Streeter’s students were empowered by knowing they’re not alone, according to Laura Woodard Clark, a graduate of the program. Some have even reported leaving their jobs in pursuit of a more fitting workplace environment, according to Streeter. To offer real-life application tactics, Streeter said, is a “lot of responsibility and a big privilege.”
Clark said the program was “especially engaging” due to the personable and practical solutions it offers. She was able to speak with more confidence and employ the negotiation tactics taught by the program in her professional life.
“I am a sensitive person, and I tend to avoid conflict,” Clark said. “Prior to this course, I always viewed that aspect of my personality as a weakness and one that would deter me from finding professional success. Dr. Streeter taught me that those traits are quite common among women, as we have been socialized to be nurturers. I no longer view these traits with negativity.”
Kirsten Barker ’92, a lead instructor for the program, said her early job experience on Wall Street opened her eyes to the gender bias in the tech and finance industry, and, with over 15 years of listening to other women’s similar experiences, she believes this issue should not go unheard.
“It’s absolutely mindblowing to hear people’s experiences coming from traditionally male-oriented industries versus traditionally more female,” Barker said. “It really is a broad spectrum of different experiences that women bring to the program.”
According to Barker, the “anonymity of cyberspace” actually prompts the program’s students to comfortably share their personal experiences and even acts as an outlet for many women who don’t have the opportunity to express themselves authentically.
With such a diverse student population, the program is able to facilitate healthy discussion and disagreement in the classrooms over what are appropriate “next steps for women,” Barker said.
Streeter is currently in the process of developing an advanced version of the program with Prof. Susan Fleming, hotel administration, which will offer courses focused on power, executive presence, advanced negotiation and networking.
“I just want to really encourage all women that they can do it,” she said. “It’s not easy, but they can do it if they’re willing to work really hard and if we provide the right support structure.”