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Empowering Women in the Boardroom, and Beyond Student researchers produce annual women’s leadership report

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The 2016 Advancing Women to the Corporate Boardroom research team.
The AU student research team pictured with Klein and WIT members following their presentation.

Maria Wallace, MSAn '17, has always been passionate about women's leadership—especially since she began her career in a traditionally male-run industry. "Information Technology Consulting is typically male-led," she explains. "Women have a lot to offer, and I think it's important we empower them to lead in the workplace."

For Wallace, awareness of the gender imbalance wasn't enough. She wanted to take action.

Kogod Professor Jill Klein gave her the opportunity she was looking for. Klein invited Wallace to join her women’s leadership-focused research team, offering her the chance to nurture her passion while flexing her data analysis skills. “It was a project I couldn’t say no to,” Wallace says. “I’d say it was a personal calling.”

The team, organized through Women in Technology’s (WIT) Leadership Foundry, collected and compiled data to produce the sixth annual report Advancing Women to the Corporate Boardroom. The report examines corporate boards’ gender compositions, with the goal of increasing the number of women serving—and leading—in the boardroom. “Engaging graduate students in our now annual WIT research creates an outstanding opportunity to ‘pay it forward’ on behalf of senior executive women seeking board service opportunities,” says Klein.

Like Wallace, fellow team member Betsy Henderson was drawn to the opportunity for its focus on advancing women leadership. Henderson, MA International Relations online ’17, brought a wealth of global experience to the team—specifically her work on women’s initiatives in Kenya. “I’ve worked on women’s leadership projects abroad, and am passionate about it,” she says. “I’m thrilled I got to channel this experience into the research report.”

The research team, also joined by Heather Randall, MBA ‘17, found that women make up 14% of corporate boards in Washington, DC, as compared to the 17.9% national average. Data shows women’s board representation in DC is slowly increasing year-to-year, but Wallace admits there’s still a long way to go. “We’re just not seeing the women’s leadership on local boards that we want,” she says. “There’s progress, but it’s slow. Hopefully Advancing Women to the Corporate Boardroom can help affect change.”

While the research process itself was rewarding, the true highpoint of the experience was presenting their work. “I didn’t fully grasp how important this was until we shared it with others,” Henderson says. The team presented their research at the Leadership Foundry’s November 2016 meeting, giving them the opportunity to exercise their public speaking skills in front of fellow women leaders. WIT’s Leadership Foundry, a nine-month training program for budding women board members, was both receptive and excited by the report.

“They were incredibly engaged and encouraging,” says Henderson. “They’re all working hard to become the best board leaders they can. It was gratifying to see how relevant this work is to their daily lives.”

The fact the team met in person the first time for the presentation made their experience all the more fulfilling. Wallace, Randall and Henderson, all currently living in different cities, coordinated their research and presentation remotely through Business@American’s online campus. The online learning platform supports video calling, shared screens and voice recording, making collaborating from afar flexible and effective.

Kogod’s Business@American Analytics and MBA programs also utilize the online campus, offering students all the technological benefits the research team enjoyed. Wallace, Randall and Henderson, all graduate students in AU’s online programs, describe it as “efficient,” and “creative.” In Henderson’s experience, “classes are often times more productive than they would have been in person.”

Though the team’s research has drawn to a close, their commitment to the cause has not. All three team members plan to stay engaged in women’s leadership initiatives—both in the US, and abroad. “I hope to work in foreign policy and business development overseas, and I think women are crucial players in this,” Henderson says. “Working with such a great team of women only motivated me more.”

Wallace will continue working with the Leadership Foundry to organize the report’s research into a central database. She hopes her continued work will provide a tool companies can use to advocate for women in the workplace. “Research shows that many companies say women’s leadership matters, but they’re not sure how to integrate it into their business,” Wallace says. “I hope this helps them talk the talk and walk the walk.”

Most of all, Wallace, Randall and Henderson hope the report will inspire change—in the boardroom, and beyond. “I hope Advancing Women to the Corporate Boardroom will pull more people into the conversation about women’s leadership,” says Henderson. “It’s an opportunity for growth and improvement. Let’s get excited about the potential.”

To learn more about WIT and the Leadership Foundry, visit http://www.womenintechnology.org/the-leadership-foundry

Interested in Kogod’s Business@American online programs? Visit https://onlinebusiness.american.edu/ for more information.