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Empowering Women

By Donna Coco

Susan Duffy, Executive Director, CWL

Susan Duffy
Executive Director, CWL

When Susan Duffy was 8 years old, she started her first entrepreneurial venture, a neighborhood school, complete with her own curriculum. “The parents must have thought I was crazy,” she says. But Duffy notes that in everything she’s done since then, whether as a manager in the health-care industry, a COO of a construction company, or a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, she has found a way to educate and develop the people who work with her. So when the position of executive director opened at the Center for Women’s Leadership (CWL), Duffy was thrilled. “I see this job as a door I’ve been waiting to walk through all of my life,” she says.

The CWL aims to be “a resource for innovation, education, and research that empowers women to create economic and social opportunity,” says Duffy. Here she talks about some of the CWL’s plans.

Q: Why do we need the CWL?

SD: There have been a lot of great accomplishments over the last 10- plus years, and there is still plenty of room for continued success. Babson has a tradition of conducting leadingedge research on gender and women’s entrepreneurship, and the CWL will continue to investigate how women create economic and social impact. It is our job to educate women and men about gender so that when they take their place as leaders, they are better equipped to understand and manage this important dimension of human difference. The CWL will also celebrate the accomplishments of women entrepreneurial leaders. Definitions and images of success in both leadership and entrepreneurship are based on traditional male models. It’s essential that female images of success, power, and leadership share the role-model spotlight. This is an extraordinarily important element of learning.

Q: Can you elaborate on the CWL’s plans?

SD: It will be a hub of activity and experimentation focused on developing entrepreneurial leaders. Everything is up for evaluation right now, except for the key student programs we know are successful. The mentoring program, the women’s leadership scholarship program—we know they work. We will continue to build on them. For everything else, we’ll take a good hard look and decide what makes the most sense to stop, start, and continue. If I’m doing my job well, we’ll make some big mistakes in the next year or two, because that means we’re trying interesting, innovative things.

Q: How can the CWL affect the lives of students and the community?

SD: One of the most exciting things I think we can do is start a new conversation about gender for the emerging leaders graduating from Babson. Gender schemas [the way people perceive and respond to gender] show up in different ways in different places, and vary by organization and by culture. Not recognizing gender schemas doesn’t help anyone. Gender matters, particularly in a business context. The current generation doesn’t necessarily see that. They certainly don’t see it as a problem, and I respect that. We have to be really creative in finding a way to help raise their awareness and equip them with tools to be gender-astute. We want to graduate students who can recognize gender dynamics, who have a set of skills that they can choose from to manage themselves effectively, and who will be more effective as leaders moving forward. If we can do this, we will be doing something different than any business school in the country.