Women’s Leadership Initiative

students sitting in the grass



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Women’s Leadership Initiative

“For me, the largest benefit of WLI was creating a group of community-minded women where we were encouraged to focus on our own goals and purposes. It was a great process for me to learn how to balance being a service-oriented leader while also harnessing the power of my personal vision and purpose.” ~Kirsten Murray, Associate Professor, Department of Counselor Education, 2015-2016 WLI Fellow

The Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) is an expression of the University of Montana’s commitment to recognizing women’s contributions and their impacts as professionals in our community. Founded in 2015, the initiative uses a cohort model to build the leadership capacity of female faculty, administrators, and staff, including those from outside the university. 

WLI is coordinated by Dr. Nicky Phear, Mansfield Center Program Director and Davidson Honors College faculty member, and is funded by generous donations from Clearwater Credit Union and UM alumna Denise Grills.

WLI cohort members participate in regular gatherings and leadership trainings; spend dedicated time with campus, community, and state leaders; and lead community events to build awareness of the cultural factors that both impede and enhance women’s advancement in leadership. 

WLI empowers cohort members to identify personal strengths and areas for growth relative to leadership roles, and articulate their vision and goals for their career paths. Cohort members expand and deepen their networks of allies supporters, and mentors. They are seen by and meet those in power, develop and enhance professional relationships, and build bridges across organizations. 

As an initiative, WLI works toward institution change (in systems, processes, and culture) to build empowering institutions that improve opportunities for women. 

Student reactions to a WLI panel and discussion organized by WLI participants:

“It opened up my eyes to realizing I'm not alone in my struggles and I should stand up and be a leader to help others who struggle with issues such as lack of confidence, etc.”

“I loved how diverse the backgrounds of the women at the table were. It gave me a fantastic perspective”

“First, being in a room on campus with so many strong and well-spoken women. It was really nice to hear that other people experience similar fears and struggles. Specifically, fear of failure and building confidence were topics that resonated with me.”