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Peggy Rader, communications director for the College of Education and Human Development, participated in WLI in 2000-01. At the time, she was the unit's publications and media relations coordinator.
Creating a community of women leaders
Women's Leadership Institute prepares for 2004-05
By Dee Anne Bonebright
From Brief, June 2, 2004
Women play a significant leadership role at the University. Many also reach out to support each other, encouraging the professional growth of newer colleagues.
One way they can do this is through the Women's Leadership Institute (WLI), sponsored by the Office for University Women and the Office of Human Resources.
Since 1998, five cohorts of about 25 women have participated in the year-long program. In addition to retreats and monthly meetings, the cohort attends WLI seminars and networking events for program alumni. A key feature of the program is the chance to gain an insider perspective by hearing the stories of women in senior leadership positions at the University.
The WLI was started by the Network of Women Administrators, a committee chaired by Gwen Gmeinder and part of the Office for University Women. The planning group was concerned about the lack of support for women leaders.
"We wanted to create a community where women could build networks and learn from each other," says WLI founding member Bonnie Marten. "It's a lot different learning from a cohort of peers than just going to a workshop."
A common theme for women leaders is the importance of developing confidence in their own skills. Peggy Rader, communications director for the College of Education and Human Development, participated in WLI in 2000-01. At the time, she was the unit's publications and media relations coordinator.
"WLI helped me come to understanding about what leadership is," Rader says. "I had difficulty thinking of myself as a leader.""Hearing other women talk about being leaders and reflecting with my group helped me become comfortable with my role and be ready to take the next step," she says. "I needed to give myself credit for what I was already doing."
The WLI is open to women faculty, civil service, P & A, and bargaining-unit staff on all the U campuses. Meetings are held on the Twin Cities campus, but each year, at least one participant has been from Crookston, Duluth, or Morris. Some are new leaders, and others are reaching the end of successful careers. This provides an opportunity to meet colleagues whose paths would otherwise never cross.
"It makes the University less scary," says Jenny Rachmaciej, assistant director of Orientation and First-Year Programs. "I was told to call Laura in Human Resources about a particular problem and I thought 'Oh, I know her.' It made the call much easier."
Lessons learned in the WLI can be helpful to all women at the University. Speakers have encouraged women to:
- seek opportunities to connect with other women leaders
- consider inviting a colleague out to lunch or interviewing her about her career experiences
- look for ways to build connections outside of their work units, such as working on a college task force or serving on the Civil Service Committee.
"Begin to think of yourself as a leader," says Rader. "It's not about having a title. It's about how you approach your job, your work, and other people. It's about stepping forward and taking responsibility, wherever you are. Think about what needs to be done and how you can help accomplish it. That's how to express leadership."
Applications are currently being accepted for next year's WLI cohort. For more information, see http://www.umn.edu/ohr/adp/wli.html.
Dee Anne Bonebright is the program director for the Women's Leadership Institute.