New program focuses on empowering women on campus

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A new TCU program is trying to eliminate self-doubt in women who want to be leaders.

The TCU leadership center has developed a new program called Lead NOW (Network of Women) to empower women and help them gain confidence as leaders.

According to a new Pew Research Center survey on women in leadership, most Americans believe women and men are equal in key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation. Many even say that women are stronger than men in terms of being compassionate and organized leaders.

Women have outnumbered men on college campuses since 1988. They hold almost 52 percent of all professional level jobs, have earned at least a third of law degrees since 1980 and almost half since 2001, according to the Center for American Progress.

Women made up a third of medical school students by 1990, and since 2002, they have outnumbered men in earning undergraduate business degrees.

But females continue to lag behind men when it comes to representation in leadership roles.

Judith Warren, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said in a broad range of fields, the presence of females in top leadership positions—as equity law partners, medical school deans and corporate executive officers—remains stuck at a mere 10 to 20 percent.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said “women systematically underestimate their own abilities.”

Dede Williams, director of the TCU leadership center,said  these patterns of self-doubt are demonstrated on TCU’s campus, where women make up 60 percent of the undergraduate population.

“It’s harder for women on this campus to get an equal leadership position or spot in an organization, even though they could be at the same quality,” said Courtney Heier, junior kinesiology and movement science major. “For a program that shoots for equal numbers of female and male members, there is less of a chance that a female will get an acceptance than a male, even when they aren’t competing against each other.”

Despite the rejection that some women face, Heier said everyone “has the potential to be a leader.”

“I’ve gotten plenty of rejections from leadership roles,” Heier said. “Rejection for anyone causes self-doubt and comparison.”

“There is a difference between how our student female leaders approach things and how our male leaders approach things,” Williams said. “Research shows that there’s a lot more self-doubt with women.”

Heier worked with the TCU Leadership center to develop Lead NOW. The program, which is open to first-year female students by faculty nomination, provides opportunities for female students who want to develop confidence and leadership skills.

Lead NOW kicked off its program with a 24-hour retreat in Weatherford, Texas. During the retreat, 27 female students participated in both large and small group sessions to explore themes such as identity, resilience, relationships and leadership.

Heier said the most valuable part of the retreat was time spent in small-group discussion.

“There was a lot of vulnerability there,” Heier said, “and an ability to open up and be willing to share tough experiences.”

The Lead NOW program and its retreat were created to encourage female students to recognize their own unique strengths and develop confidence, Williams said.

“We really wanted to have an avenue for young women to have a community where they could talk about themes of their own leadership styles,” Williams said. “We hope that they grow in their confidence levels.”

Emi Gomez, a psychology and Spanish double major and member of Lead NOW, said the retreat helped her to learn more about her abilities as a female leader.

“I learned more about myself and how I can separate my leadership abilities from who I am as a woman,” Gomez said. “I do not feel inferior for being a woman or a minority.”

After attending the retreat, Gomez said she wants to expand her leadership experiences in the future.

“By the time I graduate and continue on with my education, I want to make an impact on the TCU campus, Fort Worth and Global Community,” she said.