New Women in Leadership program benefits female students

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The Center for Gender Equity (CGE) honored the annual HERstory month this March with events focusing on themes of success and self-care. One HERstory event also kicked off Women in Leadership (WIL), a new program sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs designed to foster managerial skills in female students.

HERstory month is a national awareness campaign that focuses on celebrating women’s accomplishments and bringing attention to gender-based issues.

CGE Programming Assistant Frances Delfin (sophomore) views the month as an opportunity to recognize the different experiences and narratives of women. When planning their events, the CGE collaborated with different offices and student organizations to represent the diverse perspectives that HERstory month encompasses.

“Within a liberal arts college or institution of advanced education, understanding multiple perspectives and the diversity of individuals is in the pillars of Occidental,” Assistant Director of Intercultural Affairs Joel Gutierrez said. “It’s part of Oxy’s DNA.”

Occidental’s celebration kicked off with a lecture and workshop March 18 by artist Favianna Rodriguez. She discussed her work as the director of CultureStrike, an artistic network and magazine associated with the national movement against immigrant discrimination. In the magazine, she uses her art to speak about women’s rights, racism and immigration.

The CGE also planned a salsa dancing workshop March 28, aimed to encourage students to engage in self-care by easing stress, according to Gutierrez.

Other HERstory month events focused on building leadership and professional skills in Occidental women.

At the “Oxy Connections: Women in Leadership Alumnae Panel” March 24, alumnae shared their student and professional leadership experiences with current students and talked about how their college education prepared them for their careers.

The panel featured four women: MakersKit Lead Product Designer Emma Thorne-Christy ‘11, Director of Programs for the Executive Service Corps Janet McIntyre ‘96, freelance writer Marquita Thomas ‘95 and Executive Director for the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Grace Farag ‘97.

Rosa Pleasant (first-year) found the event beneficial because it encouraged students to tackle gender-based workplace challenges and reminded them that they are not alone in their struggles.

“I found the panel during the group discussions cathartic, as we were able to share our narratives with other women who could empathize as our peers as well as share with those who have not been faced with the same challenges,” she said.

Delfin said that the transition from being a student leader at Occidental to one in the professional world can be a difficult change that would benefit from dialogue.

“At Oxy, there are always counter spaces to talk about negative or positive experiences, whereas in the real world this might not always be the case,” Delfin said. “Having alumnae come back and speak to their experiences is powerful because they came from the same environment that we did and they know the nuances of being a leader on Oxy’s campus.”

Courtney Stricklin Burgan, assistant director for employer relations, believes that HERstory month gives female students an opportunity to think about how their Occidental education might influence their post-graduation career options.

“The goal is to bring real life skills early into campus so women leave with that professional savviness,” Burgan said.

The panel was planned by Burgan, Gutierrez and Amy Hill, assistant director of student life. Although the program was a HERstory month event, it is also the first event sponsored by the new WIL program, which will be officially launched Fall 2015.

WIL is an initiative of the Division of Student Affairs, led by Gutierrez and Hill, with the help of Burgan and Graduate Hall Coordinator (GHC) Tiffany Lara. Former Intercultural Affairs Program Coordinator Sean Ford was instrumental in the initial phase of development during summer 2014, Hill said.

The evolving program was designed based on the leadership-focused events of last year’s HERstory month. It aims to equip women with support and resources to be able to pursue professional opportunities, Gutierrez said. WIL’s organizers hope to offer two to three skill-building workshops or discussions per semester. Potential topics for discussion include a financial planning workshop and an examination of femininity and sexuality in the workplace.

Also planned for the program are partnerships with existing events like the Feminist Faculty Series, Career Development Center workshops and student-led initiatives.

Attendance at these events will be tracked and students who attend a certain number of events will be recognized at the Division of Student Affairs Leadership Awards each May. Hill said WIL would also like to sponsor two to three students to attend national conferences such as the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders.

“Smart Salary Negotiation Workshop,” another event piloted by WIL, is set for April 14. The workshop will take place at Scripps College and aims to provide women with the confidence, knowledge and skills they need to negotiate salaries and benefits in the professional world, according to Hill.

Ultimately, the purpose of the program is to help Occidental women become leaders in their careers and reduce the gap in female leadership, Hill said. For her, HERstory month and WIL are things that she is passionate about and can support through her position at Occidental.

“As a woman, it is important that I support other women and help remove as many obstacles as possible that may prevent them from achieving success and happiness,” Hill said. “It is my hope that the Women in Leadership program does just that.”

WIL is open to student input and ideas on the program, according to Hill, and will be hosting a focus group April 21.