New Weatherhead School program designed to help women succeed, remain in STEM professions

CWRU female student working in a science labCase Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management has established an executive education program that begins March 27 for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions—and the companies interested in retaining them.

The Leadership Lab for Women in STEM provides professional and leadership development for women in technology-driven, traditionally male-dominated professions. Program planners say the Leadership Lab will help participants identify strategies and develop organizational skills and competencies for a successful long-term STEM career.

The new Leadership Lab is designed for:

  • Women in STEM professions interested in developing professional and leadership skills to flourish in male-dominated STEM organizations.
  • Women in STEM who want to advance into roles with more responsibility, but are not sure how, or have attained success, but want to change the culture of their organizations.
  • Executives and managers, or those in human resources or other support roles, who want to do more to retain women in STEM organizations.

The six-day program—intended for women of all stages in their careers—focuses on professional development and leadership strategies taught at the Weatherhead School’s Department of Organizational Behavior, internationally known for teaching appreciative inquiry, emotional intelligence and competency-based leadership development.

A 2012 report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology predicts a deficit of 1 million STEM workers nationally by 2022, because improvement is needed in student recruitment and retention in those fields. The report calls for increasing the number of women graduating with STEM degrees. A U.S. Department of Commerce report in 2011 determined that several factors contribute to the discrepancy of women and men in STEM jobs, including a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping and less family-friendly flexibility in STEM fields.

The Weatherhead School’s KeyBank Professor Diana Bilimoria, chair of the organizational behavior department, explained that the Leadership Lab recognizes complex, multilevel organizational factors that affect women’s ability to achieve and succeed in the STEM professions.

“In fact, previous research has shown that women leave these professions at twice the rate of their male colleagues,” said Bilimoria, who studies leadership, governance and gender diversity in organizations.

Bilimoria, Kathleen Buse, adjunct professor at the Weatherhead School, and Ellen Van Oosten, visiting assistant professor of organizational behavior, are the Leadership Lab’s faculty members. Buse and Van Oosten have academic and industry backgrounds in engineering.

Buse and Bilimoria, in their research article “Women Who Persist” published in the fall 2013 edition of SWE Magazine (the publication of the Society of Women Engineers), analyzed why women in engineering either stay in the field or seek other careers.

They note that the number of women with undergraduate engineering degrees increased from 5 percent in 1980 to more than 20 percent today, but that women represent only 10.5 percent of employed engineers nationally—a share that’s remained relatively unchanged since the mid-1990s. Women often leave the profession because of workplace hostility, non-supportive managers, demanding schedules, or lack of flexibility for family needs, they reported.

Buse and Bilimoria sought to determine why women engineers choose to stay in the profession. They found that those who persist “described themselves as confident, optimistic and hopeful. They talked about themselves in terms of their identity as an engineer, and when confronted with obstacles that might inhibit their goals, they adapted.”

Buse worked at Kodak for 18 years, becoming a high-level manager in film manufacturing. She later worked at Lubrizol, Avery Dennison and Sherwin-Williams before enrolling at Case Western Reserve in 2008 to earn a PhD.

“Universities teach skills to solve problems of a technical nature,” Buse said. “When someone graduates in engineering, or with a STEM degree, we’re not giving them the skills they need to be successful in an organization. This Leadership Lab bridges the gap between what one would learn in a technical field and being successful in an organization, understanding the dynamics going on and the behaviors within an organization.”

Program dates and topics include:

The Leadership Lab program can be adapted to an organization’s needs. (Email to learn more.)