A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
written by Abby Carney (B.A. ‘12) | published on September 19, 2017
The WomenLead program seeks to end gender disparity in the workforce and help pave the way for a generation of women business leaders.
Despite the strides women have made in the workforce, they still face tremendous disadvantages. There’s the gender pay gap, lack of women in corporate leadership roles and insufficient maternity leave, which can discourage women from remaining employed and create barriers when they return to work.
These issues had Nancy Mansfield wondering, “How do we address these things so that women stay in the pipeline and continue to achieve?”
Mansfield, professor of legal studies, began research in earnest on a program dedicated to women in leadership a few years ago.
“I envisioned a three-pronged approach,” Mansfield said. “First, to give the students an opportunity to hear their own voices; second give them confidence and a network; and third to give them exposure to the Atlanta business community and create signature experiences.”
With those tenets in mind, she helped develop the WomenLead program in 2015.
What originated as a pilot program with 30 students has blossomed into a group of more than 250 students. Throughout the semester, students attend discussion panels and workshops, engage with community leaders, forge connections at networking events and engage in critical analysis of the economic and social effects of women in the workforce.
Mansfield arranges for them to go on visits to local partners such as The Coca-Cola Company, CNN, Georgia-Pacific, and UPS, places that frequently recruit Georgia State graduates. WomenLead students also participate in interviews and mentoring, get help with their resumes and spend time reflecting on their strengths and how to best represent themselves in a professional setting.
WomenLead is offered as an elective with three different tracks: Business, Science,and a new section for Policy and Politics which started in fall 2017.
The unique and interactive class functions less like a traditional class and more like a career bootcamp, Mansfield said.
“The gift of the program is not just the skills and insight the students get, but the social currency,” Mansfield said.
Thien Vo, a double major in computer information systems and managerial sciences, took WomenLead in Business last fall and gained the most through the professional relationships she initiated in class.
“Some of these people are now my mentors,” Vo said. “It’s really good to have that guidance and someone there who can help you towards graduation and beyond.”
One of those mentors is Angie Allen (MBA ‘80). Vo said she inspires her by what she’s accomplished: pushing for gender equality, running her multimillion-dollar growth investment management firm — GLOBALT, Inc. — and starting her own nonprofit that helps level the playing field between men and women. But she’s equally impressed with her generosity of time, freely giving it to meet and discuss issues Vo is facing.
“That’s who I want to be,” Vo said. “I want to be successful enough that I can turn around and give back to my community.”
That spirit is quintessential to what the program stands for at its core — women leaders lifting up the next generation. And it’s gotten the attention of some very high-profile women in business, such as the Committee of 200, the invitation-only global organization of top female executives and entrepreneurs who came to Georgia State during fall 2016 for what they call a “Reachout” day where they share their expertise and insights with future women business leaders. They also awarded six scholarships to outstanding WomenLead students in 2016. Vo was one of those scholarship winners.
At the end of the semester, students culminate their learning experience with a final project, presenting themselves to community leaders who will judge their posters and presentations. The students reflect on their strengths and values, and discuss what they’ve learned and where they’re headed. Mansfield describes it as an “oral resume of sorts,” because it requires having the confidence to stand and talk about themselves and their next steps.
“Of the hurdles we face as women, one of the biggest is always just the self-confidence of ‘I can do this,’” Mansfield said.