Smith & SWE Proud to Advance Women in ST&E

Watch program clip

June 2, 2012 Northampton, MassachusettsSmith College Executive Education and the Society of Women Engineers will host the 9th annual “From Specialist to Strategist”, a strategic leadership program to develop women in ST&E. The week-long program starting on June 3rd will bring together a cohort of 58 high-potential female managers to the Smith College campus in Northampton, Massachusetts. The program will kick off on Sunday evening with a welcome dinner and keynote by Denise Johnson, General Manager for Specialty Products, at Caterpillar.  Women will attend classes on strategic leadership, innovation, finance, team development, negotiation and executive presence that will prepare them for advanced management roles. They will experience Smith’s transformative all-women learning environment that promotes risk-taking and self-reflection. Companies represented this year are Aetna, Bechtel, CAT, Cummins, Dell, Fannie Mae, Gen Dynamics, Honeywell, IBM, Intel, Kellog, KCC, Millipore, Rockwell, Rolls-Royce, Solar Turbines, Southern Co, StateFarm, United Tech, and URS Corp.

For more information visit

Contact Abida Adnan, Assistant Director, Communications, Smith College Executive Education

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L.A. Business Symposium: Women Say Single Sex Education Built Confidence

Panel discussion

The day started bright and early on Saturday, March 27 for about 50 businesswomen who gathered at Autry National Center in West Los Angeles for “Powering Up: Smith Women in Business,” a one-day symposium for Smith women to network, dispense advice, and learn a few tricks of the trade. Having spent their undergrad years at Smith College, a premier all-women’s institution, it was no surprise that the conversations flowed effortlessly for these high-powered gals in business.

It was a sweet start to the day as Devin Alexander, a celebrity chef, media personality, and author of the New York Times best seller The Biggest Loser Cookbook placed several boxes of a delectable assortment of bite-size muffins on the coffee table. “These are 50 calories each and delicious,” she explained. While munching on the guilt-free treats, the attendees sat down for the first panel, entitled “Success in Today’s Economy: Whether Your Corner Office is in Your Home or a Glass Tower,” which was moderated by Wendy Markus Web ’80, a board member of Jack in the Box. Wendy began by urging her fellow alumnae to “go where the love is” and help one another. “Research shows that if you help somebody you like them more and people like you better if they can help you,” she added.

She then turned the spotlight to Jennifer Beindorf ’91, who founded her own innovative consulting company, Virtual Minds, and couldn’t stress enough the value of networking. “I’m not an extrovert,” she said, “but every job I got was a result of people I had met and connections I had made.” She also advised attendees to “never eat alone” and meet people for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even coffee to get a jump on networking. Then there was Lauren Dillard ’73, who heads her own independent consulting practice after starting out as an economic researcher in the Federal Reserve System and managing multi-million dollar IT projects. For Lauren, it was an intensely analytical course in French poetry at Smith that explained her “tenacity in cracking a problem.”

The panel also included a corporate executive, Heidi Johnson Novaes ’88, Vice President of Sales and Marketing Communications at Capital International Financial Services. Heidi considered embracing change and being open to opportunities among the keys to success. “There are some days when family wins, some days when your kids win, and other days when work wins,” she said. When Ann Marie Mortimer ’88, Managing Partner of the Los Angeles Hunton & Williams LLP office took the mike, she confessed that she was the one with the traditional role in the corner office of a law firm. Yet Ann was anything but traditional in her outlook, urging attendees to “look for things that need an owner and do them.” She also shared her insights about the merits of an all-women’s education: “Through the years, I’ve observed that women who’ve had a single-sex education stand out when it comes to poise, self esteem, and confidence.”

After rousing applause and a quick fifteen-minute break came the second panel titled “The Digital World and the Marketplace,” which was moderated by Judy Milestone ’66, former vice president of network booking for CNN. First up was Hilary Maler ’00, Associate Marketing Coordinator at Whole Foods, who shared the sensational story of how her company turned an ostensibly negative video posted by a customer into something positive. Because the video went viral, more people became intrigued by the Whole Foods brand! Robin Moore ’77, Principal at Moore Communications, an internet marketing communications agency, emphasized the importance of developing a social media strategy while remaining flexible about the ideal mix of activities. She also talked about Conversation Prism, a tool created by Brian Solis that consists of an evolving conversation map, categorized and organized by how people use different social media networks.

Tricia Ting ’93, founder and owner of Tree Concept Inc., which specializes in branding, art direction, illustration and marketing, shared her view of customer testimonials as the ultimate free marketing tool. “People trust recommendations made by customers,” she explained.  For Tricia, who recently opened a bakery with her husband, sponsored ads are not nearly as effective as reading about someone’s first-hand experience of a service or product.

In her highly anticipated address, Smith President Carol Christ discussed new initiatives at Smith around business education, among them a course on how to write a business plan that would conclude with a high-profile competition. She also mentioned Smith’s Executive Education program, which has been partnering for over 35 years with Fortune 500 organizations to develop, retain, and advance women. Carol then presented research on patent registrants. While men dominate the field by a high margin, when their pool is compared to that of women’s college graduates, the ratio evens out. It was a winning note to end a perfectly energizing Saturday morning.

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10 Tips to Communicate Effectively in Cross-cultural, Virtual Environments

ImageWhat do we do when our colleagues speak a different language and use different communication patterns and styles? How do we pick up on body language and facial expressions we can’t see? Even the tone of voice sounds different over the phone, especially when accents are present and English is spoken as a second language. “Cultural differences don’t disappear in virtual settings just because we can cross boundaries fast and with ease — in fact, often, they are magnified,” says Anja Langbein, expert on cultural intelligence, and co-founder of the Culture Learning Group.

In a recent webinar at Smith College Executive Education for Women, Anja Langbein, offered strategies to manage cross-cultural communications in virtual environments. The biggest communication issues Langbein sees come from differences between relationship-oriented versus task-oriented cultures, low-context versus high-context communication styles, and individual versus group-oriented ways of thinking. For example, someone from a relationship-oriented culture might respond negatively to a cut-to-the-chase kind of email thinking, “They only write to me when they want something; they don’t care about me at all.” On the other hand, a person from a task-oriented culture may be thinking, “I couldn’t care less about the weather in Brasilia now; right now, we have a task to complete.”

Here are some tips Langbein offers that can help break down barriers in virtual environments.

  1. Pick the right medium for the right message. When possible, use “friendly” means such as video conferencing.
  2. Set agendas for meetings and distribute them beforehand. Post profiles of teams members on an online directory.
  3. Be sensitive to time zones.
  4. Ban multitasking during calls and meetings.  Being attentive and fully present in the moment will help you pick up on non-verbal cues.
  5. Listen to understand, don’t interrupt, and speak as though remote participants are in the room.
  6. Be prepared to briefly interrupt your virtual meetings so that colleagues in another part of the world can discuss a certain topic and find consensus.
  7.  Do not expect members of a group-oriented culture to voice their opinions in your meeting.  Avoid putting individuals on the spot unless they volunteer.
  8.  Decisions are likely not going to be made during your virtual meeting.  Follow up individually to secure that your team members understand your expectations.
  9. Set time aside for relationship-building.  Meet face to face every now and then, and hold monthly virtual “meals” to build rapport.
  10. Take a class on intercultural communication and ways to handle conflict.

Consider these tips the next time you pick up the phone or schedule a conference call with your colleagues from across the world.

Do you have a virtual communication tip that you’d like to share? Please comment below.

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Daniel Goleman guru of Emotional Intelligence speaks at Smith College


Neural Synapse

18 months of planning spearheaded by Smith Executive Education for Women and bringing together multiple Smith College offices came to fruition on November 29.  The Student Events Committee, Dean of the College, Wurtele Center for Work and Life, Center for Early Childhood Education, Department of Education and Child Study, and Smith College Campus School collaborated on this exhilarating event. More than 300 students, faculty, and community members, packed Weinstein Auditorium to hear Daniel Goleman speak about new insights into Emotional Intelligence. Especially intriguing is the research on social intelligence.

Three main points were of particular interest:

  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • The Social Brain
  • The Social Brain Online

SEL has tremendous potential to address issues like bullying, poor conduct, substance abuse, and truancy in children from pre-school through college. Curricula that helps children re-pattern their brains to increase self-awareness and self-control, negative behaviors can be reduced. Dr. Goleman used the example of an awkward kid trying out for soccer. One of the top athletes on the team began putting him down. Instead of getting upset or defensive, the newcomer shared that he was really talented at art and could draw anything. He acknowledged to the potential bully that he’d probably never be really good at soccer, but that he thought he could learn a lot. The experienced player took the newcomer under his wing and began to show him the ropes.

What happened here and how can we apply it to our “grown-up” interactions? Basically, by owning his own talent, the newcomer gave himself a “put up” (the opposite of a “put down”). The other kid’s brain responded (more on this in a minute) and mirrored the positive feelings of the new kid. Then the new kid followed up by giving the athlete a “put-up” thereby sealing the deal on a mutually beneficial interaction. Think about this the next time you feel fearful or defensive. How might you change your own response and, potentially, change the outcome of the event?

Now, back to the comment above that “the other kid’s brain responded”. Dr. Goleman talked about the Social Brain, the discovery of “mirror neurons” throughout the brain that he likened to Wifi. These neurons pick up others’ emotions, movements, and intentions. This concept provides some interesting insights into the Managing Relationships aspect of Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence model. It turns out we have a big impact on every interaction we have with another person. Our emotions, movements and intentions are transmitted to that other person before we say a word. And at the same time, we’re picking up waves from their neurons and mirroring them! The challenge here is to become more self-aware and more able to manage ourselves. The benefit is the positive impact this can have on all of our interpersonal relationships.

The Social Brain Online is a fascinating area of research and has real implications for the world in which we live and work today. As mentioned above, the social brain is designed to transmit information from one person’s brain to another in close proximity. In other words, in face-to-face interactions. So what happens to our brains when we’re communicating on the phone or via email? On the phone, there are many clues as to the other’s emotional state: tone of voice, pace of speech, and pitch to name but a few. But online or via email, it’s a different story. All of that ancillary information is stripped away.

The result is “flaming” – an email that delivers a lot more anger than was intended. This is all exacerbated by the social brain/video monitor interface. It works like this: you type a message that you think is positive. The problem is that the positive stuff that would be communicated by posture, facial expression, tone of voice, etc. if you were delivering your message in person, all stays on your side of the device. The person receiving your message doesn’t get any of the context and so perceives it, at best, as neutral. That’s the “negativity bias” to email. Send something you think is neutral and it is likely to be perceived as negative, and so on down the line. It’s only if you know the sender really well that your brain overcomes this negativity bias based on history.

Think about the impact on your own interactions if you were to understand and develop the Emotional Intelligence to overcome your negative patterns of reaction (SEL), manage yourself to have the maximum positive impact on others (the Social Brain), and remember the negativity bias when communicating electronically (the Social Brain Online). The ramifications of these simple changes are really very significant: improved self-awareness and self-management, enhanced social interactions, and better online communications.

So, go out there and cultivate positivity and watch for the results!

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4 Steps to Bolster Your Objectivity

How often have you overreacted to a situation, taken something personally that really wasn’t personal or read tone in an email and responded with tone?  These were some opening poll questions that Elizabeth Thornton, Adjunct Lecturer of Entrepreneurship at Babson College, asked a group of Fortune 500 women executives.


What really happened?

The cohort of women tuning in to this interactive webinar had just attended the Smith College Leadership Consortium, a two-week leadership development program for mid-level female executives.  They had come together to learn about a fundamental leadership skill: the ability to be objective so as to solve problems more effectively by arriving at conclusions that are accurate and bias-free.

As the virtual polling progressed, the results revealed an almost 50-50 split between those who said they overreacted at least once a week and those that crossed the line once a month. “That is just about right…we all do this all the time,” explained Thornton, who is credited with engineering a new curriculum at Babson called the “Principles of Objectivity.”  The course teaches global leaders how to increase their objectivity by questioning the underlying assumptions they have about people, behaviors and situations.

According to Thornton, we as human beings are programmed to be subjective—to experience people, situations and events through our own sensory lenses.  In turn, we tend to project the way we interpret the world onto our daily interactions and happenings.  We differentiate, categorize and prejudge, while developing ideas and ways of thinking that prop up our worldview.   Yet as Thornton points out, these habitualized frames of reference often compromise our capacity to make productive decisions based on “what is,” rather than “what we think is.”  Our subjective analyses often lead to “cognitive errors” that impel us to:

  1. Over-generalizing: we conclude that things are worse than they really are
  2. Magnifying: we blow negative events out of proportion
  3. “Attending selectively”: we focus only on one side of the equation when assessing the situation at hand

It turns out that, in a professional context, extreme subjectivity can cost us big time; it can disrupt our relationship with a manager or coworker, make us miss a critical deadline or forego promotion opportunities and even jeopardize our all-valuable reputation.

Thornton projects a magazine image from the sixties: a woman standing in a kitchen with a broom in her hand while wearing a prim (another adjective?) blue dress, a crisp apron, a necklace of pearls, and high heels.  “Many of our mental models are reflections of what we’ve grown up seeing in the media,” she says.  Thornton then asks the women to engage in a chat exercise to come up with some common “mental models” of women in the workplace and discuss what effect these might have on women and the corporations for which they work.  “We see over and over that more often than not, men are put in ‘chief of staff’ positions,” shared one participant.

Of course, there are “mental models” about men as well.  What about the stereotypical image of a handyman?  Men who don’t fit that model might be viewed as somehow less manly and even inept!  Ultimately, says Thornton, “objectivity is recognizing and accepting “what is” without projecting our mental models, background, culture, experiences, and responding thoughtfully, deliberately and effectively.”

But how can we train our minds to recognize “what is” without being subjective?  How can we make judgments that are uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices and based primarily on observable phenomena?  Thornton’s solution emphasizes self-awareness and mindfulness.  She outlines a four-step method for intervening in our own thought process:

  1. Recognize the facts about a situation
  2. Pinpoint the “mental models” that are influencing your reaction
  3. Identify new modes of thinking and behaving based on knowledge, experience and feedback
  4. Respond more objectively

So the next time you start reacting to a situation, hold the thought!  When you have the urge to write that long rant of an email or storm into your co-worker’s office, make a conscious decision to change course.  Try doing something completely different, such as taking a ten-minute walk, to give your mind a chance to gain perspective.  As one program participant commented, “I can aspire to be objective all the time or at least catch myself 100% of the time when I’m not.”

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Smith College Leadership Consortium Marks 15 Years of Advancing Corporate Women

It’s that time of year again, when long-time member companies, Accenture, Johnson & Johnson, Chubb Group of Companies and MetLife, will send 60 high potential female directors to Northampton, Massachusetts to attend the Smith College Leadership Consortium, a two-week executive education program for women that starts July 22. These star companies, three of which are ranked among Diversity Inc’s top 50 companies, have partnered with Smith College because they understand the business imperative to retain, develop and advance their female talent.

In many cases, women still work in male-dominated cultures and environments. They, knowingly or unknowingly, face barriers to realizing their full potential and advancing their careers. According to the McKinsey 2011 report, lack of role models, exclusion from informal networks, not having sponsors in upper management, and women’s self-limiting beliefs are among the barriers that women experience. The Smith program affords women the opportunity to share their experiences and break through some of these barriers.

“Being educated with women allows you to be a little more open with your ideas and insights. I don’t need to be concerned about whether this sounds too soft. These ‘soft’ traits, a consultative approach, are what our global business needs, ” says Michelle Middleton, Senior Vice President of Chubb Group of Companies who attended the program several years ago and was on last year’s senior executive panel.

The leadership consortium brings together world-class thought leaders from top-tier business schools such as Tuck Executive Education at Dartmouth, Stanford University and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. The faculty teach classes on strategy, innovation, corporate finance, gender and negotiation, and cross-cultural communication. It’s seems like a typical array of topics for an executive education program presented by any top business school, but classroom learning is just part of what the two weeks at Smith will accomplish.

“What’s atypical is that this program is 100% focused on women’s advancement,” says Iris Newalu, director of Smith’s Executive Education program, “and at Smith we do things differently.”

The Smith-corporate partnership builds companies’ female leadership pipeline by developing a cohort of women every year. The program, now in its 15th year, was founded on the promise of delivering a holistic approach in executive education. The two weeks of intense programming weave together a solid academic curriculum with daily reflection periods on work-life integration, a senior executive panel on career management strategies, a presentation on women’s health, and a networking environment that allows opportunities for candor and self-disclosure, unlike those of mixed gender programs.

In a recent orientation call with Accenture, Lisa Grill, a participant from 2011, recalled how “two weeks is a substantial time…you get to know the women, you build bonds of trust, and you become open to sharing and learning and taking risks.”

To add pizzaz to the occasion, women will attend an exclusive reception hosted by Smith College President Carol Christ at her campus residence overlooking the beautiful Paradise Pond. And during the second week, they will enjoy a private reception at the Eileen Fisher boutique in downtown Northampton. “It’s going to be an amazing and fun two weeks,” remarks Newalu, “to witness the energy, power, and transformation of a group of highly motivated and smart women… who will undoubtedly also enjoy shopping!”

The group of 60 women from cross-industry, cross-functional backgrounds will be staying at the historic Hotel Northampton in downtown Northampton.  They will enjoy a 10-minute walk to campus every morning, through the quaint New England town carrying their Smith-signature program totes, many of them stopping by at the local Starbucks to grab a cup of their favorite coffee. In the evenings, they will make the most of networking dinners with their peers.

The combination of intellectually stimulating topics in business and leadership and Smith’s optimal environment for women’s empowerment is what produces maximum impact. That is why, every year, member companies reward their most promising women leaders with a special milestone opportunity at Smith College.

> Watch what women say about the Smith College Leadership Consortium

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Executive Women’s Health Retreat Deepens Web of Connection

The power of a ball of yarn…

On May 17, eleven talented and hard-working women executives, alumnae of Smith College Executive education, joined Dr. Tieroana Low Dog, renowned herbalist, physician, educator, and women’s health sage, for three days of self-care in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the Smith College Executive Education Women’s Health and Spa Retreat.  We came together as separate women each with a host of responsibilities, challenges, and aspirations. By the end of the first evening we were a cohort, a tribe, with knowledge of and compassion for our sisters. How could this happen so fast? A simple ball of yarn…

Dr. Low  Dog explained that she opens every retreat with this exercise: she wrapped the yarn around her wrist and shared her feelings and hopes for our three-day retreat and for each of us. She then threw the yarn to another member of the circle who did the same. By the time everyone had spoken we each had yarn around our wrist, a sense of the amazingly diverse women around us, and a web of connection that criss-crossed the space between us, erasing our singularity and binding us in a matrix of support.

Dr. Low Dog led the cohort through an intense curriculum focused on mind, body and spirit. Principles of meditation and breathing blended seamlessly with the latest information on women’s health. Yoga, spa treatments, healthful food and a field trip to a wholistic pharmacy rounded out the program. And, as in every Smith Executive Education program, the women’s stories, the connections and compassion they shared, deepened every lesson. Whether looking for better health and fitness, a more balanced approach to the demands of work and family, or ways to care for herself, the women discovered strategies and support for their journey. From the opening circle, using a ball of yarn that created a visible web of connection between the women, to the closing circle, replete with tears and embraces, the retreat provided every participant with tools for self-reflection, stress reduction, and health enhancement. Mindfulness, reflection, breath work, physical exercise, methods to maintain a support network, herbal supplements – the group embraced and explored them all during the program.

This is the power of the women’s networks that spring from every Smith College Executive Education program. The learning and laughing we did during the retreat was deepened and enhanced by this web of connection, symbolized so eloquently by the band of yarn we each wore. On the final day we left knowing that the tribe is there for us, no matter the challenge or the aspiration.

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