Published: May 3, 2021

The Leeds Women’s Collective sets-up female grad students for success.

Grad programs gender equity

For women, business school has come a long way. Once primarily a boys-club culture, it was only a decade ago that Harvard Business School gave itself what it called a “gender makeover,” creating a more supportive, empowering environment to foster women’s success; other schools followed suit.

At the Leeds School of Business, Dean Sharon Matusik says they continue to nurture a culture that empowers women and helps graduates achieve better outcomes.

“Our commitment to women leaders is central to who we are at Leeds. One of our main initiatives is End the Gap, working toward gender parity in business education and inspiring women to lead. We’ve made good progress but still have a way to go toward achieving complete parity,” says Dean Sharon Matusik, the first-ever woman dean at Leeds.

One of many programs that is inspiring women’s success at Leeds is the Women’s Collective Forum to End the Gap—an annual event that welcomes incoming graduate students into the powerful women’s community at the school. This April, 60 participants got to know the dean, female faculty, staff, current students, alumnae, corporate partners and board members in a unique webinar experience.

For them, it was a one-of-a-kind chance to meet their peers, kick-start relationships and build their networks before starting school. In fact, Kristi Ryujin, the associate dean of Graduate Programs, informed them that the women they met through the webinar would likely serve as lifelines throughout the program and beyond.

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“You’re here to become a fearless leader who will shatter glass ceilings and reach down to others and say, ‘Come on up.’”

Christina Lacerenza, Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior

Between TED-style talks from CEOs and faculty, frank conversations with students and alumnae, and networking breakout sessions, a recurring theme of support and community ruled the day.

“Feel confident. Don’t waste six months of your program feeling like you’re not as qualified as your peers. You have earned it. You are prepared, and you belong here,” said Kendall Carroll (MBA’19), a former high school teacher turned product marketing manager.

More than a dozen current students and alumnae described a unique, supportive environment for women at Leeds.

In the spirit of mentoring future women leaders, Jane Miller, founder of Jane Knows, CEO of Lily’s Sweets and a Leeds board member, spoke on leadership. She recommended women give themselves permission to take off their “superwoman cape.”

“Let go of feeling like you have to have all the answers all the time; don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and show your humanity—these are characteristics of a great leader,” said Miller.

Other executives who shared advice came from Accenture, Smith Capital Investors, Google, Techstars, Deloitte, Leopard Communications, Metal Trading Corp., Crocs and Phillips 66.

Ellen Balaguer, chair of the Leeds Advisory Board and retired global managing director of Accenture, promised women 100% support from Leeds’ senior leaders.

“You will find a great a home professionally and personally at Leeds, and we will help you take the next step in your careers,” said Balaguer.

Christina Lacerenza, a professor of organizational behavior and researcher on gender and race, described the great power in having “a pack of women by your side to support you.” 

“How can you turn your aspirational dreams to reality? The women at this event are going to help get you there. We’re going to help get each other there,” said Lacerenza. “You’re here to become a fearless leader who will shatter glass ceilings and reach down to others and say, ‘Come on up, the view is amazing from here.’”

Once underestimated and underrepresented, women today are finding supportive communities and cultures designed to ensure their success at school and beyond. As the population of female graduate students and alumnae continues to rise, they are better positioned than ever before to transform the face of business.