Skip to content Skip to navigation

Giving women “Voice & Influence” online

Mar 6 2013

Online education in 2013 is exciting. In this era of massive open online education, it’s possible to bring world-class education to anybody with an internet connection.

Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research aims to do just that, with an online curriculum called Voice & Influence. The Institute's mission—translating university research to be actionable in people's lives—hasn't changed in nearly forty years, but the delivery has.

The major components of Voice & Influence have been in place since 2010, when the Institute launched an in-person version of this curriculum. This earlier program translated gender research to empower women to have more influence in their organizations, within their disciplines, and in public debate.

However, after three years, only fifty women, all senior managers and Stanford faculty, had experienced this education. Many expressed regret that they did not learn these skills and perspectives at a younger age – or even the prior week when they faced a particularly thorny issue.

“Leadership programs are often available to only relatively privileged women, most of whom are already leaders,” says Clayman Institute Director Shelley Correll. “We want to reach more women, and at varying stages of their careers.”

Rethinking online education

In looking to expand delivery of the program, the Institute did not want to give up the winning components of the Voice & Influence program. “Cohorts are essential to our Voice & Influence program,” explains Correll. “The networks are invaluable, as is learning from one another.”

“The real challenge is delivering a very personal experience for individual women while harnessing the massive potential of online education,” explains Lori Nishiura Mackenzie, Clayman Institute Associate Director.

By partnering with Sheryl Sandberg’s new foundation, Leanin.Org, and community platform start-up Mightybell, the Clayman Institute can maintain the cohort experience on a broad level.

“This online curriculum framework more closely mirrors the role sections and study groups play in liberal arts education,” says Gina Bianchini, Mightybell CEO and Clayman Advisor helping to launch the initiative. “This program seeks to bring a fuller, richer definition of what education means to the broadest base of people possible.”

The new format consists of a series of approximately 20-minute videos, each with a facilitated conversation using a downloadable discussion guide. Women can access the modules individually or in groups such as corporate Women’s Initiative Networks or alumnae associations as Lean In Circles – wherever women want to participate together and learn from each other. Think executive education meets book clubs.

To spark these offline conversations, the research team led by Mackenzie and sociologists Marianne Cooper and Sara Jordan-Bloch worked with each faculty presenter to distill the ten-week course or three-hour lecture to a short format delivered in around 20 minutes.

"Creating a Level Playing Field" is a prime example. Typically, Correll gives a one-to-three hour lecture with extensive Q&A to engage audiences in the complex world of stereotypes, bias, and organizational solutions. Attendees of such a session are often highly engaged corporate leaders working on the issue. The challenge facing the Clayman team: make the session short, accessible and relevant to all individuals, including those who may not yet be in a position of creating organizational change.

“The essential element of a great session is reframing so people feel they can approach their challenges in a new light,” explains Mackenzie. “We call this a MindShift. When it happens, we see women trying something new after the session.”

The MindShift in Correll’s lecture enables viewers to understand the roles stereotypes play in limiting women's careers and opportunities. In seeing this, they can explore solutions they and their organizations can take to limit the impact of stereotypes.

More than fifty women participated in fourteen focus group sessions prior to launch. “Before this session, I thought these topics were taboo,” shared one focus group participant. With Voice & Influence, the Clayman Institute hopes to move these topics from taboo to widely known.

The future of Voice & Influence

At launch, the program offer five videos, complete with discussion guides and additional resources such as articles, books and videos women can download or read to expand their learning. The Institute plans to launch additional videos later this year.

The launch topics are:

Power & Influence with Deborah Gruenfeld, Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

Negotiation with Margaret Neale, Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

Harnessing the Power of Stories with Jennifer Aaker, Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

Team Dynamics, with Melissa Thomas-Hunt, Professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School.

Creating a Level Playing Field with Shelley Correll, Professor of Sociology at Stanford

Over 100 people volunteered their time, intellectual property, and passion to launch Voice & Influence online. Professors donated their time, research and intellectual property. The research team spent evenings rigorously focus group testing the material with a diverse set of participants in small focus groups. Volunteers braved the camera to share their personal experiences. Studio audiences waited patiently as the team experimented, iterated, and tried new techniques while filming.

The driving force of this effort was the possibility of making these new ways of delivering actionable research frameworks accessible to everyone.

“We are proud of what we did together,” reflects Mackenzie. “We can’t wait to learn and rapidly iterate with a community who finds this work valuable. For us, this is just the beginning.”

A gender lens
exposes gaps in knowledge,
identifies root causes of barriers,
and proposes workable solutions.