In 1994, the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) was concerned about the high attrition of women scientists and researchers and the lack of women in leadership positions within CGIAR and its associated Centers. CGIAR felt a leadership course could help women better navigate this male-dominated sector and transform their careers. But equipping the women with leadership skills alone would not be sufficient. The women staff would need to have mentors, be mentors, and have opportunities to publish their research. African women staff, who had fewer women in leadership positions who could serve as mentors, experienced this additional barrier.
TRG partnered with CGIAR and experts from Simmons College to design and deliver a women-only residential training called the Women’s Leadership and Management Course (WLMC).
- The team gathered data from researchers and scientists in the field about the pressure points women staff faced, systematic barriers, and leadership models that might support the women staff’s professional growth within CGIAR.
- The 7-day course was designed to build a small learning community of women who would get to know one another, collaborate on activities, take responsibility for themselves and each other, and explore lenses of diversity through an iterative program.
- The sessions include exploring and engaging with leadership models in an experiential way. There are ample opportunities to pause and reflect throughout the course. Participants are placed in thoughtfully constructed small groups (maximizing diversity for learning) that engage in various team challenges, after which teammates offer each other positive and constructive feedback.
- Session topics include assertiveness and saying “no,” emotional intelligence, core communications skills, giving and receiving feedback, navigating conflict successfully, and strategic influencing.
- The course uses a tailored 360-degree feedback and various assessment instruments to support participants’ understanding of themselves and their colleagues in the workplace.
- The trainers make themselves available throughout the residential program for individual coaching.
Later, TRG developed an Advanced Women’s Leadership and Management Course which has been offered to graduates of the WLMC.
At a conference in 2007, TRG interviewed 12 esteemed women scientists from around the world to identify common variables that enabled their entering and staying in their fields. This combined with the success of CGIAR’s WLMC laid the groundwork for a new organization that aimed to stop the leaky pipeline of African women scientists – African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD).
Over the last 25 years, TRG staff have served as trainers on 40 WLMC deliveries all over the world, in such countries as Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Italy, Syria, Sri Lanka, India, Philippines, and the U.S. To date, over 1,000 women scientists have participated in the course.
- An impact study after 10 years found that the WLMC and a negotiation course that comprised the program led to three types of leadership transformations – hidden leaders became visible leaders, constrained leaders became enabled leaders, and intuitive leaders became strategic leaders. Participants acquired knowledge, increased self-awareness, changed their perspectives, developed skills, improved self-confidence, and changed behaviors.
- An article published in the Journal of Management Education about the women’s leadership program “argues that an environment conducive to transformational learning for women was created from the harmonious coalescing of the presence of all-women participants and instructors with gender-sensitive teaching and learning practices. The integration of these elements created safety and participant willingness to break with habitual patterns.”
- One participant said the course was “not the ordinary ‘to-do toolbox’ training but one that helped me critically examine myself and my capabilities and where am heading to in terms of progression both at professional and personal level.”