New Women in Leadership Program at Michigan Ross Works to Overcome Barriers and Empower the Next Generation of Women Business Leaders
Women can bring unique perspectives and skills when they lead teams in high-performing organizations; however, women made up only 8% of C-suite leadership positions at Fortune 500 companies in 2021.
Recognizing this gap, the Sanger Leadership Center at the Ross School of Business, in partnership with General Motors, created Women in Leadership, a new program to inspire, motivate, and equip women and their allies to be successful business leaders.
WIL seeks to educate women and allies about leadership skills, provide a space to practice these skills, share tools and resources, and offer mentorship from supportive women leaders and allies. The program, which is open to all University of Michigan students, includes workshops, speaker events, and mentoring opportunities across the academic year. The events vary based on student needs.
Lindy Greer, Sanger faculty director and associate professor of management and organizations at Michigan Ross, said having a program built for women and allies at Michigan Ross will encourage more women to step into leadership roles in their future careers.
"Promoting the rise of women in leadership is critical for organizations to live up to both their financial and moral imperatives," Greer said. "Women remain shockingly underrepresented in leadership positions and face, at times, a difficult road to the top of their organizations. With programs like Women in Leadership, we hope to pave the pathway for more diverse leadership in companies and better performing organizations."
Building confidence through behavioral change and mindset shifts is one way women can empower themselves to achieve their goals, said Erica Haughton, Sanger associate director of integrative experiences.
“Building confidence is a small step that women can take to navigate institutionalized biases that often exclude them,” she said. “Our goal is to continue providing resources and agency to our students as they begin their careers post-U-M and foster inclusive environments that allow many leadership styles to excel.”
Empowering women leaders is important to GM because the company aspires to help push communities forward and address challenges women face in the workplace, said Jacklyn Kim, assistant program purchasing manager of global purchasing and supply chain at GM.
“Our communities are faced with big challenges today, and we recognize our responsibility is not to sit idle, but instead, to respond to a world in need with positive, sustainable solutions,” said Kim. “In our aspiration to become the most inclusive company in the world, we are guided by our words, our deeds, and our culture. GM is honored to celebrate the leaders and future leaders who help foster our rich company culture while also embracing their own as exemplified through this collaborative event.”
Sanger and GM have a longstanding history of working together to create leadership programs at the University of Michigan, including previously working together on the Leadership Crisis Challenge and Impact Challenge.
Students applaud initial WIL events in January
In its launch year, WIL events included a workshop on navigating, negotiating, resisting self-doubt, and a panel about leading through crisis. The workshop provided students with insights and strategies to address self-doubt triggers with certified leadership coach Ijeoma Nwaogu, founder and CEO of EVERLEAD.
"I focus on this topic mainly because of my own experience with self-doubt," Nwaogu told students. "In my master's program, I barely spoke in class throughout the entire two years of that program because I was too afraid that I would say the wrong things. Every day I would go back to my apartment feeling super regretful for limiting myself in class. I used to deny myself the opportunity to be a full participant because I felt like I didn't belong."
Following Nwaogu's presentation, students broke into groups to build stronger connections with fellow students and GM employees to strategize ways to mitigate self-doubt.
The second WIL event took place at the Leadership Crisis Challenge and focused on preparing students for planning, navigating, and overcoming global and corporate challenges.
Women leaders from GM joined the panel: Darci Marcum, executive director of global manufacturing engineering program management; Kristin Toth, executive director of electrical controls and architecture, automated driving, and advanced technologies; and Marissa West, executive chief engineer of global mid-size truck, medium duty, and van.
The panelists shared what they learned from navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises, along with recommendations for how emerging leaders can manage crises throughout their careers.
"The Women in Leadership workshop put on by the Sanger Leadership Center provided me with useful tools that will help me excel as a woman with a future career as a leader,” said Amira Haidar, MPH, ’23. “I had the opportunity to share my own experiences, hear the experiences of other diverse attendees, and then use the skills developed in training to address challenges that I face based on my identity. I am excited to participate in future workshops put on by the center."
In March, WIL will offer another Leading Through Crisis panel at the undergraduate LCC. Telva McGruder, GM's chief diversity officer, will be speaking in April at Ross in the Robertson Auditorium. In this casual conversation, McGruder will share how she overcame unique obstacles she has experienced as a woman of color, her career journey, and provide mentorship to students as they begin their careers post-graduation.
For more information on upcoming WIL events and how to register, visit Sanger Leadership Center.