What do you call a group of 25 female leaders in STEM? A minor miracle on the precipice of a major miracle! We have individually battled barriers across education, workplace and society. We are neither sprinters nor marathon runners; we are iron women and we have seen too many of our female colleagues depart the sector for various reasons including poor work-life balance, career advancement challenges and a lack of support for diversity.
Fortunately, the Women In Leadership Development (WILD) Program founders and fellow women in STEM Nadine Brew, Udani Reets and Lauren Giorgio had the vision to examine the gap in senior leadership and board diversity and seek to understand why women are under-represented at the top. They concluded that a fully-funded program offering supportive networks, access to governance training, executive skills development and real-world board experience could begin to change this.
No surprises therefore that when a call out was issued for women in STEM to apply for their program which promises to elevate already talented, high-achieving women and propel them to where they are scarce and in demand, there were no shortage of applicants.
The 2022 WILD Women were selected from a pool of 150 applicants. From the beginning, networking was the oil in the engine. Those who could get together in person met up in Melbourne and Sydney. Digital collaboration tools assisted us in getting to know one another across five states. This initial networking laid a powerful base for the way the we engaged in the Australian Institute of Company Directors training. Split into two groups, each group participated in five all-day virtual training sessions. Great content, excellent virtual delivery, and the use of ‘Chatham House rules’ allowed the groups to get better acquainted professionally, applying their experiences from STEM industries to knowledge acquisition and deep learning.
Following AICD training and coursework, we gathered in Adelaide for a leadership retreat named ”Elevating Executive Presence”. We spent two very full days building up our executive skills and strengthening the relationships we had formed during the AICD course. The retreat provided an intense learning environment where we gained and practiced critical leadership skills in a peer group setting. It is no accident that by the end of the training, we all left with more confidence in our executive communication abilities and even stronger relationships.
Following the retreat, all WILD Women take up board observerships which allows further skills development and consolidation of governance and executive training. By the end of the program with learning and practice done, participants can take their new skills, knowledge and experience into building their career further including potentially stepping into board service.
What is unique about the program is the energy created by the participants and the supportive relationships built amongst the cohort. Setting aside time and money for leadership training can be challenging for women, many of whom are working in demanding roles, volunteering and supporting their communities and running busy home lives. The support of a like-minded group of people is everything and the networks facilitated by the WILD Program enabled us to stretch in ways we did not think were possible to advance our careers even further.
Learning in a team environment where empathic leaders support one another to grow professionally is not unlike the board environment where decisions and planning is undertaken as a team. The board is a team that strives at exceeding the sum of its parts. Similarly, the WILD Program’s success will be based on its ethos of supportive, well-networked individuals motivated to pave the way for others, with a view to enriching and providing diversity in the boardroom and elevating female STEM leaders more generally.
The WILD Program plans to build incrementally on its success. While still working with the 2022 cohort, plans are afoot for the 2023 intake and growing the program towards sustainability. With an impressive advisory board, generous sponsors and the promise of engaged alumni from the program, there will be a lot of interest in outcomes from such a magical combination. Who better than the WILD Women to solve this important and challenging problem facing Australian boardrooms.
By Anne Conlon, WILD Women 2022