Learning to Advance Women in Leadership: An Interview with Kathleen Buse

Gen­der diver­si­ty is a dri­ver for suc­cess, reports Tur­ban, Wu and Zhang in Har­vard Busi­ness Review.  If this is true, why are women under-rep­re­sent­ed in some STEM pro­fes­sions?  To answer this ques­tion, we con­sult­ed with Kath­leen Buse, PhD, Direc­tor, Women’s Lead­er­ship Insti­tute at ERC.  Kath­leen has made it her busi­ness to research how orga­ni­za­tions can recruit, retain, and advance women, espe­cial­ly in STEM pro­fes­sions.  As an engi­neer and leader, she uses her own expe­ri­ence to inform her research and practice.

Kath­leen reports that, despite progress in many pro­fes­sions, women remain severe­ly under-rep­re­sent­ed in lead­er­ship (e.g. women com­prise 5% of S&P CEO’s) and in crit­i­cal pro­fes­sions (e.g. women com­prise 12% of pro­fes­sion­al engi­neers) and indus­tries (e.g. women com­prise 33% of the man­u­fac­tur­ing work­force).  Busi­ness­es pay for this in both over­all busi­ness results and increased recruit­ing costs. Under Kathleen’s direc­tion, the Women’s Lead­er­ship Insti­tute at ERC advo­cates for, and empow­ers women to achieve in these capac­i­ties, ones that have been described as dif­fi­cult. Lever­ag­ing the lat­est research, the ERC pro­vides pro­fes­sion­al and lead­er­ship devel­op­ment to help women under­stand the bias and bar­ri­ers they face and what they can do to elim­i­nate them. They also help lead­ers in orga­ni­za­tions under­stand why they are falling short and how they can take action to increase gen­der diver­si­ty across roles. One key action is to devel­op a crit­i­cal mass of women (greater than 30% of an orga­ni­za­tion or more than 3 peo­ple in a small group) so that their opin­ions are not min­i­mized or their expe­ri­ences undervalued.

Kath­leen believes it is impor­tant to trans­late well-doc­u­ment­ed aca­d­e­m­ic research into prac­ti­cal strate­gies that women use to over­come the bar­ri­ers and to achieve their goals. For exam­ple, her research revealed how uncon­scious bias in orga­ni­za­tion­al prac­tices inad­ver­tent­ly lead to the pro­mo­tion of male can­di­dates over equal­ly qual­i­fied or even bet­ter qual­i­fied female can­di­dates. The ERC Wom­en’s Lead­er­ship Insti­tute pro­gram demon­strates that once women under­stand how the bias man­i­fests in orga­ni­za­tion­al prac­tices, they are self-moti­vat­ed to change these prac­tices.  In addi­tion, women who under­stand the bias and bar­ri­ers help both men and women rec­og­nize and over­come bias in decision-making.

One of the out­stand­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of the women who par­tic­i­pate in the lead­er­ship devel­op­ment pro­grams at the Women’s Lead­er­ship Insti­tute at ERC is that they are life-long learn­ers. They increase their self-aware­ness and expand the choic­es they view as pos­si­ble.  For instance, over 40% of the women who attend­ed one lead­er­ship devel­op­ment pro­gram ini­ti­at­ed pro­mo­tions for them­selves with­in one year.

Learn­ing is essen­tial to empow­er women to achieve in lead­er­ship posi­tions and in non-tra­di­tion­al roles. Kathleen’s work shows that indi­vid­ual and orga­ni­za­tions will­ing to learn are those that are most­ly like to recruit, retain, and advance women---and to be more suc­cess­ful in the marketplace.

Lis­ten to an inter­view with Kath­leen Buse as she tells about her his­to­ry, research, her learn­ing style pref­er­ences, and ways she con­tin­ues to learn.