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Women in Leadership Program Grows Future Innovation Leaders

A group of female leaders clapping

For women ready to make the next move in their careers, innovation is key. By embracing a forward-thinking approach, these aspiring leaders can position themselves for success.

The upcoming Emory Continuing Education (ECE) certificate program, Women in Leadership: Driving Transformation Through Innovation and Resilience, will deliver a solid foundation. “My class is all about understanding innovation — why it matters, and how you can apply it to motivate yourself and others,” said instructor Quinn O’Briant, an Atlanta-based innovation consultant and Emory graduate.

“This is a great fit for those who are ready to move up to the C-suite and are looking to build their skill sets,” she said.

Covid has made it harder for women to be heard in the workplace. As reported by CNBC, 45 percent of women business leaders say it’s difficult to speak up in virtual meetings. One in five women reported feeling ignored or overlooked by colleagues during video calls. At a time when women’s voices still are not heard prominently in corporate America, a program empowering female leaders will create a supportive space.

“In the cultures that women create, as opposed to the cultures that men might create, there tends to be a sort of harmonizing and listening to one another. That actually sets women up really well to do innovation work, because innovation is mostly paying attention,” said O’Briant, who also teaches at The Hatchery, Emory’s center for innovation.

This theme of attentive listening is key to the way O’Briant understands innovation. Corporate leaders too often make the mistake of thinking that innovation simply means coming up with a good idea and pushing it out onto others. In fact, she said, innovation ought to be a much more collaborative exercise.

“In order to innovate, you first need to create a deep understanding of the people you want to serve. We call that having a user-first focus,” she said. “To get there, you have to get out of your own head, your own experience, and really listen to other people. You need to put  your own biases aside and understand what they care about. That's where you find the gold.”

In keeping with that theme, O’Briant will be joined by Soumaya Khalifa, president of Khalifa Consulting, a management consulting firm specializing in intercultural issues. She’ll discuss ways in which an intercultural approach can support innovation.

“We are all working globally, whether we know it or not. We’re encountering people from all over the world with different backgrounds and different points of view,” Khalifa said. “I’ll be talking about the ways in which we navigate through that, the ways in which women leaders can be more aware of cultural issues so that they can excel more fully in their efforts to innovate.”

Other key learning modules in this class include collaborating across siloes; cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset; and managing for risk in a fail-fast environment. That last point refers to the cultural issues that can sometimes get in the way of efforts to bring new ideas to the table.

In the traditional approach, people will put in lots of time and effort to develop an innovative idea. By allocating people and budgets, the thing takes on a life of its own, and it becomes harder to pull the plug if the idea doesn’t pan out as planned. What’s needed, O’Briant said, is a fail-fast mentality.

“I encourage people to take a low-risk approach: To investigate possible solutions before investing,” she said. “You might make something out of pipe cleaners, or a mock-up on a computer. You're just trying things out and getting feedback from your users. That way, by the time you're ready to really invest in something, you have actual data to support it. Now you're not taking such a big risk.”

As it happens, O’Briant will expand on this in an upcoming ECE course called Design Sprint: Help Your Company Innovate in a Post-Covid World. “The Design Sprint offers an introduction to the key ideas in Design Thinking,” she said. “This is the same approach that is used by Google, Facebook, Chick-Fil-A, as well as almost every technology company.”

Those who take part in the Women in Leadership program will come away with practical tools for driving forward their organizations and their own careers.

“I want to help women to be confident innovators,” O’Briant said. “I want to see them promoted. I want to see them climbing to the next level as leaders who know how to get things done in their rapidly changing marketplaces.” 

Visit our Women in Leadership preview page for more information about this exciting, upcoming program. ECE is a division of Emory Academic Innovation.

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