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New MBA Course Focuses on Developing Women Leaders

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Beginning this March, MBA students at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business will have the opportunity to look toward the future and consider their own advancement in the job market through a new course titled Developing Women Leaders: Cultivating your Human and Social Capital. Professor Catherine Tinsley, who has been instrumental in building the Georgetown University Women’s Leadership Initiative (GUWLI), will teach this six week course of her own creation.

For the students enrolled, Developing Women Leaders will be held in the last of their eight modules in the MBA program. Tinsley notes that with all the technical skills and experience students bring from their previous modules, “This course is designed not to help them get a job, but to help them advance once they have a job.”

Developing Women Leaders was born of the time Tinsley spends working on the GUWLI, a program that aims to cultivate young female leaders and connect them with already established female leaders out in the world. A series of conferences, networking events, and panels inspired Tinsley to create a course based on the three activities that she has found helpful in advancing and empowering women: rigorous research documenting gender dynamics, active workshops targeting specific practical skills women need to build their human and social capital, and listening to other women. It is her hope that what she has learned during the past 10 years will translate into valuable guidance for her students.

The course will be structured around the six human and social capital skills that Tinsley believes everyone — both men and women — needs to advance in their careers. Each weekly, three-hour class will tackle one of these skills with the aforementioned triad of activities. During each meeting, students will discuss one topic, practice the related skill (such as learning to interview or negotiating for a raise), and contextualize the skill by discussing with a guest speaker how that particular skill has helped her in her successful career.

“Adults learn through stories, and our speakers all have riveting experiences to share with our students,” says Tinsley, noting that the three activities work in tandem and mutually reinforce one another to help the students build their own human capital.

Though the course title might seem to indicate it is intended solely for women, Tinsley says the examined skill set is one from which women and men both would benefit. The techniques presented in the course can manifest themselves differently when done by a man versus a woman, and these nuances can be important to discuss in a broader conversation about creating a culture that maximizes the organization’s human talent. As Tinsley comments, “There’s no skill that women need to have that men don’t need to have, so this course is about advancement and building your own capital.”

Though there is a great deal of advice about career advancement readily available to women today, very little of it is based on organized research. Similar courses on female leadership that exist at other institutions are generally based on specific case studies and focus on where real women have succeed and where they have faltered. Aside from relying on case studies rather than base rates of data, this type of research can also fall prey to selection bias issues. Developing Women Leaders differs in that it is fundamentally research-based course, drawing on results from large sample sizes. The role of the guest speakers is then to offer students context for these results and insights gleaned from years of experience in the business world.

Tinsley looks forward to working with fellow faculty members, as well as alumni and other members of the Georgetown community to keep engaging in the nationwide dialogue surrounding women in prominent positions of leadership.

- Allison Sweeney