Emily Schussheim

Thirty-five women clad in pantsuits on Tuesday organized themselves into teams of four in a spaceship-like lecture hall and got to work on an activity involving marshmallows and strands of spaghetti.

The mysterious activity — the details of which program runner Jaime Willadsen requested the News not disclose — was led by Rodrigo Canales, associate professor of Organizational Behavior, as part of his lecture for the Women’s Leadership Program, a three-day intensive workshop for professional women hosted from Oct. 3 to Oct. 5 by the Yale School of Management. According to the SOM website, the program’s primary goal is “addressing the leakiest part of the pipeline — the leap to top management.”

The program offers activities, lodging, meals in New Haven and an assortment of snacks, such as the ironic spread of canele pastries laid out after Canales’s lecture. Due to high demand, the Women’s Leadership Program will soon be held on a quarterly basis, Willadsen said.

“Just to be around a group of women with all different backgrounds, we are learning so much,” said Doris Smith, a 27-year-employee of UPS from Pittsburg, as she munched on a canele. “The conversations that we had this morning are so engaging because a lot of times you feel like maybe this is just me, and how do I get around it, or what are some other experiences we’re not having, and it’s not just you.”

During the program, which began on Monday evening, participants spent three intensive days, sometimes from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., attending lectures on decision making, innovation, negotiations, verbal communication and diversity that were taught by SOM faculty members. They also took part in group coaching sessions, during which five to six women were paired with a professional executive coach to discuss leadership strategies in their workplaces.

The women who attended the program came from a wide variety of career backgrounds — including government, nonprofits, higher education and the private sector — and hailed from regions as close as Connecticut and New York, and as far as California, Peru and Australia.

Three attendees interviewed by the News cited the diverse range of participants as a strength of the program.

“It’s not just what we’re learning, it’s the interactions with the other ladies,” said María Del Pilar Pilacios, a participant from Peru.

Heather Lewis, a US government employee working in finance from the Washington D.C. area, said she left Canales’s lecture feeling informed but overwhelmed.

“I just need time to reflect on how to apply it in my career,” Lewis said. “I thought that that session was great, but when you’re working on a business process, business processes are confined [by] so many regulations.”

The Women’s Leadership Program is one of 60 programs typically offered by SOM each year. This year, however, SOM is hoping to provide 90 unique programs, including workshops on sustainability, diverse leadership and online initiatives.

The next cycle of the Women’s Leadership Program begins on Nov. 29.

Emily Schussheim | emily.schussheim@yale.edu

Lauren Chan | lauren.chan@yale.edu