Can a single class change a life? Some believe the WomenLead class can.
One year ago the inaugural class of WomenLead at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business gave 25 students the chance to increase their leadership abilities. Since then, the program has grown from one class to three classes and has expanded from just “WomenLead in Business” to also include “WomenLead in Science,” which encourages women leaders in the STEM fields.
In honor of Women’s History Month, here’s a look at the past, present and future of the WomenLead program.
Already passionate about gender inequality, Chloe Palmer, marketing and accounting major, applied for the brand new WomenLead class as soon as she heard about it. When the semester started, the once-a-week class was daunting. “At first I dreaded the two hours of class, but then it became something I looked forward to. There was always something new,” Palmer said.
The class alternated between discussions of articles and books, and chances to speak with local community leaders. “The moment that really stood out to me was our power networking event. I met several leaders from Coca-Cola that I keep in touch with even now a year later.”
For Chloe, WomenLead was a powerful personal experience beyond the content she was learning in other classes. “This was absolutely a signature experience. We met so many people and learned so much outside of the classroom.” She learned just as much from the panels of experts as she did from her classmates and the varied experiences of the students around her.
The biggest lesson that Chloe took away was something she struggled with before WomenLead. “I learned how to deal with failure. I used to be so scared of it, but I’ve learned it’s better to fail than not to take the risk.” She’s not afraid to apply for jobs and reach out to her community now, because failure doesn’t scare her anymore.
The class gave Chloe a confidence boost and also helped her find mentors that have stayed with her. “One thing we learned in WomenLead is how to find and maintain mentors. I’ve gained four or five mentors from the class.” These mentors developed organically over time and have stayed with her well past her completing the WomenLead course.
She’s thrilled to see the program growing and to know the impact being made. “WomenLead creates a network of wonderful leaders. This is all from one class. One college produced all this. Just the domino effect of this is amazing.”
Joan Mukoma, actuarial science major, was encouraged to join the WomenLead class by Dr. White in the Honors College, and now Joan can’t imagine not being involved in WomenLead. “My confidence has grown so much. I know how to talk professionally to people now,” Mukoma says.
The entrepreneurship panel where several women entrepreneurs spoke inspired Joan. Learning from the experience of successful women has given her the confidence to move forward with her own dreams of starting a business. Originally from Kenya, Mukoma is eager to learn more about the plight of women across the world and knows that WomenLead is a great step towards changing how women can excel in leadership positions around the world.
Taylor White, marketing major, only signed up for WomenLead when a fellow student asked her about it. But halfway through the semester, she’s already seen a huge difference in herself because of WomenLead. “It’s a breath of fresh air every week.”
She was worried at first, saying, “My first thought was, ugh, really two hours in class? But then I walked into the room and saw all these girls I’ve always seen around campus, and I’ve learned how much I have in common with them.” She’s found a support network in her classmates, learning from the shared experiences around the room.
For White, the most significant change has been in finding her own voice. “The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is how to have a voice and how to exercise it. It’s beneficial to learn from these women who are professionals in their fields. I’ve been working on that. It’s nice to have someone say ‘you can do this.'”
Growing up in the first wave of feminism, Nancy Mansfield has had the seed of an idea for WomenLead since she began teaching in 1981. The time to act came much later when an angel investor wanted to find a way to change the role of women in the workforce and provide new opportunities for women to become leaders.
“I tell people I work for a startup now. Since 1981 I’ve been a traditional faculty member and now I’m launching a program.” Mansfield says, “I’m working harder now than I ever have before, but I feel like I’m doing what I was meant to do.”
Taking nine months to create the curriculum for the first class, Mansfield had help from the Coca-Cola leadership program for women and developed a course that would prepare students for leadership. Working with local businesses was important for Mansfield. “I wanted to make sure that what we were doing would resonate with the community,” she says.
There are three main prongs to the WomenLead program: self-awareness, knowledge of gender inequality on a global scale, and signature experiences. These experiences take the longest to coordinate but they are the moments that stand out to both Mansfield and her students. “Every semester I have a student who watches a speaker and tells me, ‘Dr. Mansfield, I’m going to come back to Georgia State and be that person.'” She wants to give all her students the opportunity to see themselves as leaders.
“My dream about the program was to give students these signature experiences outside of the classroom. It gives them the confidence and social currency to be future leaders,” Mansfield says. She works to make sure that the speakers are engaging for the students, that every company visit teaches her students new skills, and that each reading is relevant to the current world.
The program has more than doubled in size since its first class in 2014, and Mansfield has no intentions of slowing the growth. She hopes to see WomenLead courses in all disciplines soon. Already faculty from across Georgia State have expressed interest in leading WomenLead classes.
The sky is the limit for the future of WomenLead, and Mansfield hopes to soon have annual events for current students, program alumni and community leaders to meet and share experiences.
Mansfield knows she’s making an impact on the world. “We’re planting the seed early for leadership.” With over a hundred students already impacted, WomenLead is on its way to truly changing the world.