Finding the next generation of women leaders


Professor Sarah Leberman

Massey University hopes to address one of the business world’s most persistent issues with a new initiative to encourage female leadership.

The inaugural Young Women’s Leadership Programme will bring more than 100 female year 12 pupils to the university’s Albany and Manawatū campuses on August 27. The aim is to inspire young women to step up and exercise leadership within their peer groups, schools and communities.

“We have made a deliberate decision to select students not currently in leadership roles,” says the head of Massey’s School of Management Professor Sarah Leberman.

“Traditionally the people who are identified as leaders in school environments are those who are confident and get noticed – the prefects, head girls and sports team captains. They are the students normally offered leadership  opportunities and I think we lose a lot of potential because we don’t nurture the more naturally quiet students who don’t fit in that box.”

Professor Leberman says the programme has been designed to build the confidence and networks of the young women who attend.

“After the programme I hope they will put up their hand and get noticed. I hope they feel they can go out into the world and exert leadership in a way that fits them. I want them to know it’s okay to just be yourself and play to your strengths – and knowing what those strengths are hugely important.”

The initial day-long workshop focuses on the students by helping them to become more self-aware, understand their values, find their passion and identify their own way of exercising leadership. It will also focus on ethical decision-making and the need to develop strong connections with others.

The participants will spend the rest of the year working on a real leadership project that has meaning to them with others from their school. Facilitators from Massey will keep in touch with the students throughout the year and the results of each project will be presented in 2015.

“Hopefully this will add to the talent pool of young women going forward,” Professor Leberman says. “If we can front-foot with leadership programmes in intermediate and secondary school I think we’ll see, over time, a rise in the confidence of young women. And this will be one small thing that can help effect change.”

She says that while there are many organisational and societal reasons behind the relatively low number of women in leadership roles, there is also a “confidence gap” which can be addressed at an individual level.

“We know from the research that women feel they need 80 to 100 per cent of the required skills before they apply for a job, while men are comfortable applying with only 50 to 60 per cent of the skillset,” she says.

For Professor Leberman, leadership is “about being a person of influence and being able to make a difference in an area you are passionate about”. She hopes the participants in the Young Women’s Leadership Programme will go into their own communities and make an impact with their projects.

“I hope it sows a seed for them to grow to be the best they can be,” she says.

The inaugural Young Women’s Leadership Programme will start with a full-day workshop at the Albany and Manawatū campuses on August 27. The workshops will be led by Professor Sarah Leberman (Albany)  and Dr Farah Palmer (Manawatū) from the School of Management with colleagues from other areas of the university.

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