Graduate Women’s Leadership Conference Provides New Skillsets for Women Graduate Students

March 23, 2015

Women attend GWLC 2015

Women from across Penn's graduate schools attended on March 20th, including co-organizer Lois MacNamara (foreground).


The first-ever Graduate Women’s Leadership Conference at Penn brought together over eighty women graduate students and six presenters on Friday. Aimed at sharpening leadership skills for women graduate students entering the marketplace, the sold-out event received enthusiastic interest and support. The organizers hope to make it a multi-day, annual event in the future.

The idea for the conference was sparked when Penn GSE administrator Lois MacNamara attended the Women’s Leadership Institute last year—a conference held by the Association of College Unions International. There, she thought of similar needs of the graduate students she has at Penn GSE. The Assistant Dean for Academic & Student Affairs knew that while graduate women at Penn were exceptionally well prepared in content, intellect, and research, many lacked skills such as salary negotiation and mentorship.

MacNamara reached out to Anita Mastroieni, the director of the Graduate Student Center and an alumna of Penn GSE, to create a solution. MacNamara and Mastroieni set out to address the needs of women graduate students at Penn. With a wealth of resources across the University, it became clear that it wouldn’t be hard to come up with a full slate of presenters.

Mastroieni told MacNamara about a Ph.D. student who, after coming in as a school’s second choice for a faculty position, settled for a post-doctoral program. A year later, when the same school called to offer her the job, she burst into tears and thanked them. While MacNamara certainly understood the emotion in that response, “that’s just not good salary negotiation,” she said. “When women don’t know how to negotiate, salaries for all women go down as a result.”

“We have so much expertise on campus that we can leverage for the benefit of our graduate women,” MacNamara said. “Everyone we asked to present immediately said yes.”

McKee addresses the audience


Annie McKee, Penn GSE senior fellow and director of the PennCLO doctoral program, led one of the sessions focused on “resonant leadership” – the challenge all workplace leaders face managing their own, and others, emotions in a way that drives success.

 “Women lead our communities, institutions and families, and we do it exceptionally well,” McKee said before the event. “That said, we don’t often take time out to reflect on what, exactly, enables us to inspire and motivate others. It is my honor to provide our graduate students, male and female alike, with an opportunity to reflect on emotional intelligence—the key to resonant leadership in today’s complex world.”

While the idea and initial funding for the conference came from Penn GSE, this event had stakeholders and attendees from across the University, with students coming from eleven of the twelve schools at Penn. While the largest contingent was from Education, Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Penn Medicine were equally well represented. 

This year’s conference was made possible with a generous gift from alumna Terry Schneider Koller, GED ’84, and was co-sponsored by the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA), Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, the Graduate School of Education, the Graduate Student Center, the Office of the Provost, Penn Career Services, and the Penn Women’s Center. MacNamara was pleased with the University’s support for the event, including Vice Provost for Faculty Anita Allen’s opening convocation.

“We are making a concerted effort to bring women at Penn into the fold,” when they finish their studies, MacNamara said. “Developing successful leaders takes more than reading about it in a book.”


You May Be Interested In