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VMware invests in long-term research to accelerate women’s leadership

May 22 2018

Technology industry leader VMware has provided a $15 million gift to endow the Center for Women’s Leadership. The Center will now be called the Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab.

The Center for Women’s Leadership was launched in 2013 with seed funding from then Stanford President John Hennessy and helmed by Professor Shelley J. Correll, the current Faculty Director of the Clayman Institute, who has been named the Principal Investigator of the Lab. The Center has been focused on bridging the gap between academic research and real world practice to produce research, innovative programming, and empirically supported strategies to increase the number of women leaders.

The Stanford VMware Lab will conduct foundational research to diagnose barriers to women’s advancement, develop and evaluate interventions to move beyond those barriers, and act as a hub for translating and disseminating evidence-based solutions to achieve significant advancements in women’s leadership. “We are calling this new endeavor a ‘lab’ to underscore our core goal of creating broad research collaborations that include academic researchers and industry practitioners,” Correll said. “To have the biggest impact, research needs to include a combination of basic and applied research. The Stanford VMware lab will do just that, researching basic causes of gender inequality and using this knowledge to generate interventions that are empirically evaluated in actual workplaces.”

"Now more than ever, we need more women in leadership roles and the Lab will help achieve this.”—Philip Pizzo, David and Susan Heckerman Professor of Pediatrics at the Stanford School of Medicine

Philip Pizzo, David and Susan Heckerman Professor of Pediatrics at the Stanford School of Medicine, lauded Correll as “one of the most accomplished scholars and leaders in gender and diversity research,” whose leadership and scholarship were a big reason for the gift. “With the exciting support from recently announced Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab,” he continued, “a unique partnership is being created that has the potential to create the new solutions so desperately needed to advance opportunities for women in society. Now more than ever, we need more women in leadership roles and the Lab will help achieve this.”

A Virtuous Cycle

Partnership and collaboration are at the core of the Stanford VMware Lab’s mission.

In recent decades, scholars have examined the barriers to the advancement of women’s leadership, while, in organizations, change agents have piloted programs to eradicate these barriers. Yet, progress remains elusive, and the persistent gap between theory and practice continues to stifle progress in women’s advancement. The Stanford VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab seeks to overcome this gap by conducting original research and forging new pathways between academics and industry partners to co-design, test, and share new solutions for gender equality

“Together, we can do more than each sector has done in isolation,” said Correll.

Working together through partnership, investment, and collaboration underlies the Lab’s Corporate Program, an affiliates program designed to connect the research on women’s leadership to the practice of diversity and inclusion. “I learned a lot about partnership while Director of the Clayman Institute and look forward to continuing that model at the new Lab,” added Correll.

“Shelley and her research team have done amazing things in their work on hiring and promotion practices in the technology industry, and it has been exciting to see the growth of engagement and support from industry for their programs,” noted Thomas Kenny, the Richard W. Weiland Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Student Affairs in the School of Engineering. 

“By funding a sustained commitment to diversity research, VMware’s investment will transform Stanford’s capacity to create the knowledge so urgently needed in the world right now.”—Molly Anderson, CEO of Exponential Talent

The Stanford VMware Lab’s research agenda takes a holistic approach to diagnosing the barriers that women face—from the formation of one’s leadership identity at school, to critical career transitions, to their experiences in organizational processes such as hiring, performance evaluations, and accessing stretch assignments. The unifying mission of this agenda is to not only posit solutions but to test their long-term efficacy, so that organizations and change agents can implement those solutions that have been rigorously researched and tested.

“Without women's full participation in leadership, our world lacks the diversity required to develop innovative solutions to our toughest, most complex problems,” said Molly Anderson, CEO of Exponential Talent who worked to build the relationship between VMware and the Center. “By funding a sustained commitment to diversity research, VMware’s investment will transform Stanford’s capacity to create the knowledge so urgently needed in the world right now.”

Why VMware?

Creating large scale social change requires an investment in the transformational possibilities of research. According to Mari Baker, former Stanford Trustee who helped establish the Center, “VMware’s endowment provides the foundation upon which Correll and her team can build and scale the research to reignite the stalled progress on women’s leadership and have the potential to affect the lives of tens of millions of women.”

Founded in 1998 by Diane Greene and Stanford professor Mendel Rosenblum and members of his lab, VMware has had longstanding ties to Stanford and has a history and commitment to translating research into action. VMware was among the first companies to test new models and solutions with Correll and her team—developing, testing, and implementing solutions to accelerate women’s leadership.

VMware’s belief in the value of research to inform solutions continued with a $1.5 million gift in 2014 to the Center’s “Seeds of Change” program, a research and education initiative that addresses the underrepresentation of girls in STEM.

There is also another personal connection underlying VMware’s endowment: VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger. A Stanford alum, he was a graduate student of former Stanford President John Hennessey.

Gelsinger believes in the value of research and development to solve large-scale problems. Rather than taking a “quick fix” approach, Gelsinger and VMware’s vision has been to invest in and sustain research and solution-testing that will lead to sustainable change for women leaders—from high school, to college, to work, and beyond. With this investment, VMware demonstrates a commitment to elevating gender equality as a social good—to create evidence-based solutions for women of all backgrounds and across sectors.

“This wonderful gift demonstrates VMware’s visionary leadership in recognizing the impact of the Stanford team’s groundbreaking research,” said Michelle R. Clayman, Chair of the Clayman Institute’s Advisory Council. “Gender research and gender equity are important in improving lives, technology, innovation, and society.  Hats off to VMware for being in the vanguard!”

"[G]ender equality, like clean air, is a public good that benefits all of us at a societal level"—Shelley Correll, Clayman Institute Faculty Director

Senior Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Business Sarah Soule also praised the collaboration, which she said “will advance women's leadership and gender equity by bringing together the very best researchers from Stanford University with one of the most highly respected Silicon Valley companies.” She continued, “Truly innovative and transformational research, with a clear social impact, will be accelerated by this generous endowment, and I am proud to be part of the faculty advisory board for this endeavor.”

With this generous investment, the Stanford VMware Lab’s research efforts will move us all beyond the stalled gender revolution to create long-term, sustainable equality for all.  “The gift to endow the Stanford VMware Lab reflects the core belief that gender equality, like clean air, is a public good that benefits all of us at a societal level,” said Correll. “By increasing women’s leadership we draw on the full potential of all people in our society to solve the most pressing problems facing our schools, our workplaces and our communities. Our best future as a society requires gender equality.”


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