Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The 2010 GWAMIT Leadership Conference in Review

Graduate Women at MIT had our first Leadership Conference November 8-10, 2010. This lecture and workshop series was geared towards helping graduate women blaze their own path to success by giving them an opportunity to improve their leadership and communication skills.

The GWAMIT Leadership Conference was an enormous success -- 178 people registered in advance for the GWAMIT Leadership Conference and the total number of participants at all events combined was 338. 96% of those surveyed said the Leadership Conference content was either “insightful” or “interesting” and 92% said they would attend a similar event in the future.

Keynote: Innovation Leadership [photos]

President Susan Hockfield kicked off the first ever GWAMIT Leadership conference with inspiring opening remarks about leadership and her path to MIT, and then introduced our keynote speaker, Sophie Vanderbroek, the CTO of Xerox. Through an informal, interview style keynote address Sophie told us about her career path starting with dreams of being an astronaut, to leaving Belgium to go to Cornell on a PhD scholarshship, to jobs at IBM and Xerox, and raising 3 children after being widowed in her 30s. Through dynamic and engaging conversation she led us through a day in the life of the Xerox CTO with global responsibilities and explained to us what she thought were the top 5 key innovation principles. The crowd overwhelmingly enjoyed the ‘high quality speakers’ and the ‘friendly’, ‘open’, ‘honest’ way they shared personal stories about their lives and concrete ways to get through difficulties. They immediately engaged in a Q&A session where Sophie’s contagious personality came through and even commented that the Q&A could have been longer. Though the location was a bit off of MIT campus, participants enjoyed the ‘awesome’ conference room at Microsoft NERD center which they thought was ‘so much better than campus’. After the keynote, participants mingled over an amazing spread of appetizers compliments of Microsoft. Overall people enjoyed the opportunity to ‘get away from the lab and hear an amazing story’.

Negotiation Seminar: How to Get What You Want! [photos]

Dr. Deborah Kolb, author and expert on gender issues in negotiation, led a session on different negotiation moves women can use to get what they want. The focus of the workshop was on learning how to turn problems into negotiation opportunities that lead to win-win outcomes for both parties in academic and professional settings. The seminar featured small group breakout case studies to allow participants a chance to engage with the material and put themselves in the shoes of those in the case studies. The event drew an extremely large crowd of over 100 people. Participants indicated enjoying the session as 97% of participants rated the session’s content “insightful” or “interesting” and indicated that they would want to attend a similar event in the future. 91% found the negotiation skills taught relevant to them and 83% indicated that they thought they would be able to implement some of the negotiation skills taught in their daily lives. One participant said regarding the seminar, “Excellent! Better than ever seen before!” while another echoed these comments, Great seminar! Very impressed! Congratulations!!!” Other participants expressed an interest in future negotiation-focused seminars or workshops to provide opportunities for women grads to practice the negotiation skills taught.

Assertive Communication Workshop [photos]

Prof. Roberta Pittore, a lecturer at the Sloan School of Management, led an interactive workshop on how to speak up and get your point across. Prof. Pittore read Manuel J. Smith’s Bill of Assertive Rights and defined the difference between passive, aggressive, and assertive behavior. Participants were then given two strategies for dealing with aggressive behavior: 1) fogging, which involves calmly acknowledging criticism from an antagonist, but still asserting your truth and 2) broken record, which involves calmly repeating your truth in the face of criticism.

An example dialogue:

Antagonist: “I need you to do my experiment for me today.”

You: “I can’t – I don’t have time.”

Antagonist: “But, I really need you too!”

You: “I can’t – I don’t have time.” (Broken record)

Antagonist: “But you said you would!”

You: “I may have said I would yesterday, but I don’t have time today.” (Fogging & Broken Record)

Antagonist: “ You don’t look busy. Why can’t you put down the paper and read it tomorrow? That paper isn’t important.”

You: “This paper might not seem important, but it is. I’m meeting with the author tomorrow to discuss a possible collaboration.” (Fogging)

After learning the theory behind the strategies, participants paired up and practiced criticizing one another and responding to the criticism using either the fogging or broken record technique.

96% of participants said they found the content “insightful” or “interesting” and 94% said they would attend a similar event in the future. People commented that it was a “useful workshop” with a “great speaker” and many stayed for up to 45 minutes after the event ended to speak with Prof. Pittore.

Wardrobe Workshop [photos]

Designer and entrepreneur, Sheri Falk, from the Basiques clothing store on Newbury came to MIT to share her vision about how to look great by choosing clothes that fit and flatter your frame and how just a few clothes can be used across many different settings from casual to business to evening attire. Participants really loved the fact that MIT graduate students modeled the clothing. They mentioned that the ‘actual models’ of ‘different shapes and sizes’ were helpful as the speaker showed great ‘mixing and matching’ and demonstrated ‘how the same piece could work with casual and formal’. They appreciated that the Q&A session with the speaker and found that she gave ‘perfect advice’. The fact that several of the 50+ participants were actively taking pictures and video of the models and clothing was testament to the usability of the fashion examples. 90% of the participants said the information was ‘insightful’ or ‘interesting’, and 87% felt they could immediately use what they had learned in the workshop. Overall it was a great way for graduate students to learn about how to improve their college outfits as they move into the professional world!

Personal Leadership Evaluation Workshop [photos]

Vivek Sakhrani and Alicia Erwin of MIT LEGS (Leadership Evolution for Graduate Students) led the final event in this year’s GWAMIT Leadership Conference. They guided participants through a self-assessment test of personality and behavior within their chosen settings (e.g. work, lab group) that can ultimately describe one’s leadership styles and skills within this setting. Participants learned about their own personality types, discussed with others of like-type the implications of these traits in their everyday lives, and shared with the workshop as a whole the challenges and benefits of working with people of other personality types. Although the workshop offered seats for only 40 people, over 100 graduate students and post-docs expressed interest in attending. Participants (94%) rated this event as being highly “insightful” or “interesting”, and several indicated that it was “more practical” and “more interactive” than expected. Many left the event feeling “more confident” and “more motivated” to practice effective leadership, now that they had “the tools necessary to improve” and had “learned to define what [they] need from [their] environment and [their] colleagues”. One student echoed the mission statement of the LEGS instructors in saying that now she knows “a leader is not born, they are made”.

GWAMIT co-chair Clarissa Lee (Biology) led the planning; the planning committee consisted of Ann Hickox (HST), Cuicui (Cici) Chen (TPP), Julia DiBenigno (Sloan), Julia Robinson-Surry (Chemistry), Kay Furman (HST), Miaoqing Fang (Bio. Eng.), Sonia Tikoo (EAPS), Tilke Judd (EECS), and Yuanyuan Cui (EECS). Sponsors included the Graduate Student Council, the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education, Microsoft, the MIT School of Engineering, the MIT School of Science, and the MIT Women’s Graduate Association of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

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