Women are underrepresented in corporate America, particularly in leadership roles. According to recent reporting, only 41% of managers are women and are promoted at slower rates than men. In fact, we see that with every promotion, fewer and fewer women are present in these positions. Additionally, women of color, trans, and non-binary individuals are critically underrepresented in these industries and face pervasive stereotypes in their workplaces.
While it can be disheartening to hear about the struggles women and non-binary people face in a male-dominated space such as the technology industry, a program at the I School is designed to bridge the gap and empower these professionals to climb the corporate ladder.
The program has historically seen a diverse participant population, with over 75% non-white participants ranging from 0 to over 15 years of work experience. A majority of the participants are women, but male allies have also joined in.
Through a series of workshops, guest speakers, and access to influential mentors, the Leadership Development Program for Gender Equity (LDP) aims to empower its participants to learn from each other’s experiences, apply critical leadership skills, understand how to navigate and dismantle gender-related barriers to leadership careers, and give back by passing on the knowledge they gained.
Master of Information Management and Systems (MIMS) graduate Ornella Tchoumie became involved with the program as an LDP Student Fellow, where she helped pair participants and mentors. At the time, the LDP was only open to students in the online master’s in data science and cybersecurity programs, and Ornella was an early advocate for opening up the program to MIMS students. Eventually, she was able to join the LDP and reap the benefits of the mentorship program.
“The way that the LDP mentorship program has been organized has been free-flowing and is very intentional about partnering people,” Tchoumie noted. “My mentor is always inviting me to things. I feel like our relationship has evolved from mentor-mentee to a friendship.”
In fact, she attributes her current success in the job market to the LDP and to her mentor Briana Mosley. “As I’ve been going through my job search, [LDP] offered me the language to describe my experiences in interviews,” she added. “From the moment I submitted my application, I went through the best hiring process and it’s all because my mentor…offered me recommendations, tips, and advocated for me.”
Now, Tchoumie works at Workday as a product manager alongside her mentor, who recommended her for the role. “I’m forever grateful,” she emphasized.
Recent Master of Information and Data Science (MIDS) graduate and LDP participant Gabriela (Gaby) May Lagunes described the moment that I School Assistant Dean of Academic Programs and of Equity and Inclusion Catherine Cronquist Browning spoke to her cohort as a particularly meaningful experience: “The one thing that she said that I carry and never let go of,” she recalled, “was that for the first time in my life at 30+ years of age I heard that I could be a leader and thrive professionally, not in spite of who I am, but thanks to who I am.”
Lagunes, who became a mother of two during the pandemic, was in between jobs while applying to the Leadership Development Program. She was just coming out of maternity leave and felt unsure of her capabilities, worrying about how she would be able to juggle caring for two young children while wanting to grow professionally. “I applied for LDP because I really wanted to gain confidence and find a way around the [worries] that were in my mind at the time,” she explained.
Since joining the program, Lagunes has utilized the techniques and resources she gleaned from workshops to put together a successful application for a Ph.D. program at Berkeley, fulfilling a longtime dream. The program taught her that “I had way more experience and things to show for than I ever gave myself credit for,” she said, “and that’s everything, especially for women.”
Currently in her last year of the Master of Information and Cybersecurity (MICS) program, Rona Spiegel has over 20 years of experience in the technology industry. She was drawn to LDP for a different reason than Tchoumie and Lagunes; “I felt it was really important to understand what it was going to mean to become a leader in cybersecurity. Inclusion and diversity are of particular importance to me,” she clarified.
While attending workshops and discussions with a diverse demographic of students, Spiegel was grateful for the opportunity to learn from and listen to her younger peers. “This [program] helped me shine a light on what the next generation of brilliant information practitioners and experts going into the world and developing and evolving their careers need and what their perspectives are,” she said, “so that I can, as a leader, and potentially a mentor or sponsor in the future, support them."
This creation of a support network, facilitated by mentorship pairings and open discussions, is something that Spiegel is grateful for. “At this point in my career, I might even take it for granted, but it’s something one shouldn't take for granted; I didn’t learn a lot of this stuff until later, and it probably would have benefited me to understand it earlier...No one talked to me earlier in my career about...understanding who you are and understanding the emotional tools you will need to evolve and develop alongside the criticality of understanding your domain.”
Therefore, she is appreciative of the program for helping bridge the gap between her and her younger colleagues: “There can be a lack of connection between generations, and there's resentment…[This experience] helps me connect a little bit more as we get more diverse.”
The Leadership Development Program serves as a place for personal and professional growth. Whether you’re still earlier on in your professional career like Tchoumie, further in like Spiegel, or somewhere in between like Lagunes, the program empowers students to pull upon resources to achieve their goals both in and out of the office. In fact, 90% of participants reported gaining career-related skills and tools after graduating from the program.
Equally important to the program is understanding the importance of training women and non-binary individuals to thrive in male-dominated industries. “The kind of people taking leadership positions in areas like data science…is not an accurate representation of the diversity you have in the overall population,” Lagunes shared. And if there isn’t diversity in the design process, “whenever someone leads a project, there will be racial implications and biases that harm people.”
97% of participants have reported the program helped further their understanding of the impact of gender or other identity factors on their careers and leadership and 88% reported a positive change in professional career satisfaction.
Ultimately, the creation of the LDP has led to positive changes at work for its participants. From increasing career self-efficacy in its participants to raising professional career satisfaction, the program is slowly changing things for the better by equipping leaders with equity-driven tools and a supportive community.
Now, as the program grows year by year, partnerships are crucial to coordinate learning activities, mentorships, service learning opportunities, and more. If you’d like to play a part in supporting exceptional, gender-diverse talent and building an inclusive working environment, please email Rebecca Andersen for more information.