Meet our Faculty – Leadership for Women: Practical Strategies for Success

Posted on March 23, 2023
Meet our Faculty – Leadership for Women: Practical Strategies for Success

Meet President and CEO Linda Irvine, and Head of Nursing Practice Hamida Bhimani. Both women are successful, seasoned business professionals, as well as Co-Facilitators for the Leadership for Women: Practical Strategies for Success at Schulich ExecEd. 

We spoke with Linda and Hamida to hear more about the importance of a program made by women, for women. In honour of Women’s History Month, Schulich ExecEd is highlighting 4 incredible women in our community: an account executive, a student alumni, and the two leaders of our Leadership for Women program. This is part 2 of 3 in the series.

The Starting Point 

During her time as Head of Corporate Learning and Organizational Development at a government agency, Linda sought out leadership courses to support the growth of her team’s leadership skills. She wanted to find an executive program that was geared toward the public sector, but at the time, all of the available programs she found were private-sector oriented. After looking at different universities, colleges, and organizations to find something that would meet her needs, she found an opportunity with Schulich ExecEd at York University. Linda met with National Program Director Tom Nacu to explain what she was looking for, and came up with the idea of creating a customized program for her team. Soon after, Linda joined an advisory group, where she met with the faculty and came up with a new curriculum.

“I began to pilot the program, and as I did, I noticed two things. Most of the instructors were male, and they were consultants from the private sector.” Linda explained. “That didn’t sit well with me because my client base didn’t relate to their experiences. I voiced my feedback, and, of course, when you put your hand up, you better be able to stand up. Their response to me was, “Well, Linda, you have an academic background, and you know the sector. Why don’t you design and develop something and teach it?” And I thought, okay, why don’t I? So I did.”

Linda designed two days of the original 15-day program, and developed the rest alongside her colleague Hamida Bhimani, who she had previously mentored and sponsored. The program has now been running for 7 years.

What Makes This Leadership Program Different

The Leadership for Women: Practical Strategies for Success program was developed using extensive research and evidence-based practices to equip women with practical strategies to overcome challenges and navigate opportunities in the workplace. The program focuses on empowering women through a women-specific model that fosters discussion and engagement in small groups.

“We create specific strategies that are customized to each participant of the program so that when they leave the program, they walk away with an action plan.” explained Hamida.

Each of the participants of the program also walk away with a new network of women that they are able to reach out to for practical advice and support. Many of the women also have the opportunity to be coached and mentored by Linda and Hamida.

“I’m having breakfast on Sunday with a woman who took our program in 2017.” Linda smiles. “We’re doing this because it’s important to us. It’s not for money. We don’t get paid for this. It’s just part of wanting to make a difference in women’s lives.”

Why Is This Program Important for Women?

Organizations with women in senior management are more profitable and successful, yet few organizations achieve the benefits associated with gender equity. When asked why having a program made for women in leadership positions, made by women is important, Linda thought back to her own experiences navigating her career path.

“Women deserve it and women need it. We know for a fact that there is more misogyny, more harassment, and all kinds of issues that women have to deal with at a senior level that men don’t have to. Women have very unique circumstances in the workplace. Especially as they begin to climb the ladder – the higher up they get, the more difficult it gets.” Linda explains.

“I think women deserve the opportunity to talk to other women about the issues they’re having, where they can talk with other people who understand without having to explain. It’s important to talk about the very unique issues that we have as leaders in various industries, especially ones that are male-dominated.” Linda says. “The feedback we’ve had from participants has echoed that again and again, how great it was to just talk to other women in similar situations.”

Who Is The Ideal Candidate For This Program?

When the program was first created, the target audience was emerging women leaders, women in middle management wanting to move upwards in their organization. However, over the years this vision has changed. Both Linda and Hamida realized there was a greater need for community and guidance for women in all levels of leadership.

“We have had women at all levels join this program – including a CEO.” Linda recalls. “That surprised me because I thought, “You’re there already. What’s the deal here?” And she said, “It’s lonely. It’s really lonely at the top, especially in a male dominated industry.” So, I would say this program is for any woman who wants to crystallize their vision, figure out what they want to be when they grow up and need help with the strategies to get them there.”

This unique program is ideal for women preparing for leadership roles and those currently in mid-management positions across multiple sectors and industries, including coordination and sales. Our development training also prepares mid-career leaders for senior management positions.

How Would This Program Have Changed Your Career Path?

When asked how a program like Leadership for Women could have changed their career path, both Linda and Hamida came to the same conclusion – that it would have helped them get to where they are now a lot sooner.

“I was the typical good young girl that sat down and worked hard and waited for someone to notice me. And now I know I should have put my hand up a lot faster. I should have taken risks. I should have started my own business a lot sooner.” Linda explains. “I think for me, personally, I would have advanced much faster. I would have been happier faster. I’m lucky that I’ve had a great career, I loved every job. I’ve been successful, but I do think I would have done it all a lot faster with a lot less guilt, especially as a mother.”

A program like this would have helped me navigate my career path better, and make informed decisions about which sort of roles I would want to consider. I would have had a better understanding of my meaning and purpose earlier.” Hamida says. “I would have also loved to have a community of women like this program creates, which offers a safe space to come together to share stories, and issues, and receive advice from each other. This is what we’re offering the women leaders of our future.”

After The Program

The learning journey for women in business doesn’t end with the program. Participants are encouraged to maintain their new network of women, and join other professional networks and women’s groups. 

“I personally feel that you need a strong team and a personal board of directors to guide and counsel you throughout your life and your career journey,” Hamida explains. “In order to create a strong network of people around you, you need strong coaching and mentoring skills. I would recommend looking into a follow-up program that focuses on coaching and mentoring.”

Women are also encouraged to look for other skills based programs, in areas such as negotiation or decision-making. Most of all, program participants are encouraged to keep in touch with their classmates and their mentors, to continue building their personal network.

Join The Community

With the right tools and strategies, women in leadership roles can achieve incredible things for their organization and beyond. Are you interested in joining Leadership for Women: Practical Strategies for Success?

The next session begins on June 14, enrol today or speak to an advisor to learn more about how to get started!