December 12, 2008

New Initiative Helps Women Staff Develop Leadership Skills

Although Women in Leadership Week recently wrapped up at Case Western Reserve University, eight women who were accepted into the new Women Staff Leadership Development Initiative (WSLDI) will spend the rest of the academic year gaining first-hand knowledge about becoming future leaders on campus.

The WSLDI's inaugural class consists of Deborah Fatica, Case School of Engineering; Maya Gilbert, Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences; Katie Hanna, Flora Stone Mather Center for Women; Rebecca Kahl, School of Medicine; Jennifer Nye, Weatherhead School of Management; Julie Petek, Office of Undergraduate Studies; Olivia Seifert, Weatherhead School of Management; and Tracy Wilson-Holden, Office of Research Compliance.

The WSLDI was created in part because "some of the women who went to the Bryn Mawr Summer Institute wanted to give something back to help other women attain leadership skills. There seems to be an eagerness among women staff to be involved in leadership," said Dorothy Miller, director of the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women.

When this meeting was announced in Case Daily last summer, Miller said almost 50 women showed up. "We had no idea we would get that type of response."

The year-long professional program—sponsored by the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women with substantial support from the department of human resources—offers participants an opportunity to enhance and energize leadership and career development skills through education, executive coaching and the building of professional networks. The initiative was created by Lisa Chiu, director of communications, College of Arts and Sciences; Denise Douglas, associate dean, School of Graduate Studies; Kathleen Dowdell, administrator, department of anthropology; Dorothy Miller; and Wendy Shapiro, director, Institutional Technology and Academic Computing. Miller said others who were instrumental in launching the WSLDI initiative included Adrienne Dziak, associate vice president for government and community relations and Carolyn Gregory, vice president for human resources.

The WSLDI initiative is designed to:

  • Fulfill the university's strategic plan by promoting a seamless context of excellence and leadership in a collaborative atmosphere
  • Help increase the number of women staff members with skills that enable better communication and more collaboration
  • Aid in the retention of talented staff, which will help them to maximize their skills in vital positions of responsibility
  • Promote diversity and leadership development, as well as a vibrant intellectual atmosphere

The eight who were accepted into the first class had to submit a letter of intent, fill out an analysis of their current position and write a preliminary career plan. A committee developed a scale to evaluate the applicants. "People had to really show potential. They didn't have to give us a finished product, but we were looking for commitment, potential and aptitude," said Miller, who recused herself from the process involving Hanna, a Center for Women employee.

Julie Petek, a member of the inaugural class, said "I've been here 12 years, and in recent years I've taken on new responsibilities. I find myself in situations where I have the background and expertise for certain policies and practices that are being discussed, but I didn't feel like I was being heard. It was time for me to step up and change things," said Petek, who is in charge of the degree audit system in undergraduate studies.

Petek added that one of the best things about the program is that "they took campus resources and put them all together for us. That's the brilliance of this program."

She said she also likes the fact that the program is for the entire academic year. "When you spread a program out over a year you can really use it. You get to think about things in the workplace, and it immediately affects the things you need to do."

Miller said the program puts a heavy emphasis on using available resources at the university. For instance, most of the WSLDI workshops are led by campus experts, including the Weatherhead School of Management and an upcoming seminar featuring Tom Matthews, director the university's Career Center.

In addition to the seminars, the participants meet with an executive coach to work on their specific long-term goals.

Rebecca Kahl, another member of the WSLDI inaugural class, said "my executive coach has been incredible. She's helped me gain some clarity regarding my career values and professional development goals."

Kahl added that another benefit has been networking within the WSLDI group. "I really wanted to establish a broader network of women colleagues at Case and to learn more about how the university functions as a whole. We're a diverse group, but somehow we all get along really well."

Maya Gilbert, also a WSLDI participant, has enjoyed the camaraderie with the other women, as well as the program's assignments. "When we took the negotiation skills class I walked out having a different outlook. We took another course on Women in Leadership, where the guest speakers talked about the work-life balance."

Gilbert, who has been with the university for almost three years, said the program has reaffirmed her desire to stay in the higher education/nonprofit sector.

Miller said as organizers look to secure funding for future WSLDI initiatives, one of the most important things is that the program aims to retain talented women staff.

"We think this will help people who want to do their own jobs better and to become better leaders and generate even more positive communication across the university," Miller said.

For more information about the WSLDI initiative, contact Miller at

For more information contact Kimyette Finley, 216.368.0521.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, December 12, 2008 01:25 PM | News Topics: Administration, Case School of Engineering, Collaborations/Partnerships, Graduate Studies, Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, School of Medicine, Staff, Weatherhead School of Management, features, news

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