Seeds of Change: Committing to Diversity with Stanford

At VMware, harnessing diverse talent is a strategic business initiative. In addition to changing the company’s own culture to be more inclusive, VMware looks for ways to support upcoming talent. Our work is rooted in research and we do this by working closely with leading academic institutions, like Stanford University, to develop cutting edge culture change interventions.

As part of VMware’s commitment to diversity and inclusion and our ongoing relationship with Stanford’s Clayman Institute of Gender Research, the company has begun a new collaboration with the Center for the Advancement of Women’s Leadership at Stanford University, to strengthen the pipeline for girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

The Stanford Seeds of Change initiative will use the latest research, with the goal of increasing women’s representation in engineering and computer science through a groundbreaking cohort-based learning model.

Amber Boyle, VMware’s Diversity and Inclusion Program Manager, sat down with Shelley Correll, professor of sociology

Amber Boyle, Diversity and Inclusion Program Director at VMware

Amber Boyle, Diversity and Inclusion Program Director at VMware

and organizational behavior at Stanford University and the Barbara D. Finberg Director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, to talk about this initiative.

Amber Boyle, VMware: Shelley, how do you describe the Stanford Seeds of Change initiative? What is the goal of the program, and how will it work?

Shelly Correll, Stanford University: Seeds of Change pairs trained computer science and engineering undergraduates with groups of high school women. These undergraduate women in engineering and computer science from across the country will reach out to high school girls and take them through a leadership curriculum to provide them with the tools and support they need to enter, and more importantly persist, in STEM fields.

It has the potential to finally tip the numbers – because the most powerful role models for young women in STEM are in our undergraduate classrooms.

Boyle: We see a lot of programs for women and girls in STEM. What makes Seeds of Change different?

Correll: Seeds of Change is unique in its focus on leadership. Sara Jordan-Bloch, Director of Leadership Research and Programs, designed the program at our institute. Her research really led her to realize that most existing programs to increase the pipeline of women in engineering and computer science focus on developing critical technical skills – and these are important. But she quickly realized that we need to add another component: the skills, tools, support, and frameworks that young women need to navigate critical leadership transitions as they move from high school to college, chose a major, enter graduate school, and finally begin a technology career. It is at these transition points that we see ongoing attrition of women in computing and engineering.

Boyle: Yes! We hear similar challenges for women in the workplace as they progress throughout the leadership pipeline. How does this program help build leadership skills for participants?

Correll: The undergraduate students participating in Seeds of Change will be trained on the curriculum and will be responsible for leading circles discussions with high school girls on critical leadership topics necessary to thrive in STEM, such as: understanding how gender bias affects their perceptions of STEM; overcoming situations stereotype threat; negotiating and advocating for yourself effectively; developing resilience; and finding your leadership purpose.

We expect this to be a game-changer in the trajectory of high school girls who participate. We know from research that, because of stereotypes about women in science and unwelcoming technical cultures, young women are less likely to choose STEM fields, and more likely to drop out of technical fields at every transition point along the way. The high school students will gain critical leadership skills necessary to a successful college transition into a STEM major. Furthermore, they will have developed a critical tool to combat the isolation that is often experienced for women in STEM: a circle of peers to whom they can turn when they experience challenges and encounter bias. They will also develop lifelong mentoring relationships to the circle leaders and to industry role models.

Boyle: How does this program build upon the work VMware and Clayman have done together?

Correll: At Stanford, we see the value in building alliances between academia and industry as ways to drive meaningful culture change, and we value the work we have done with VMware through the Clayman Corporate Program. One particular program is VMware’s DIALOGUE Circles, which is rooted in our research to drive action in the workplace. DIALOGUE leverages the cohort-based learning model and Clayman’s Voice and Influence Curriculum. In fact, VMware was the first company to work with us on rolling out the program in industry. We worked together to tailor the curriculum, making it most impactful for participants at VMware, and have delivered to over 500 employees. We measure the program for effectiveness and, due to its overwhelming success, have a solid model for Seeds of Change.

Boyle: We’ve seen the impact with DIALOGUE Circles and are really excited about this program. We just provided $1.5 million to the Center for the Advancement of Women’s Leadership at Stanford University for this program. How will VMware employees be able to get involved?

Correll: The depth of the ongoing relationship between Stanford and VMware will enable us to scale this program for greater impact. We plan to leverage the VMware DIALOGUE circles to provide mentorship, role models, and share their leadership journey with the college and high school participants across geographies.

Boyle: What are your plans in terms of growing Seeds of Change in the years to come?

Correll: The initiative will begin at Stanford, then scale in the Bay Area and nationally to reach thousands of college women and high school girls by 2020. A key piece of work for us will be developing a curriculum that can meet the needs of high school girls from various backgrounds, races and ethnicities, and regions.

Boyle: What advice do you have to other organizations looking to get involved with this cause or implement similar programs?

Correll: My advice is as follows – before you go and invest or get involved in increasing the pipeline, take a hard look at yourself and your own culture first. Many companies want to start their efforts by investing in the pipeline – but I believe they should start by working on their own cultures. For the past 3 years, VMware has been working on its own culture to be more inclusive. This is where the work starts. Why invest in a program to develop the next generation of women if we haven’t made progress on creating a more inclusive environment? We can’t encourage women to join the field if we are not prepared to make that change. That’s what we are also doing at Stanford.

Boyle: Anything else you’d like to say?

Correll: I would like to thank VMware for this groundbreaking investment in our work. When I met with Pat Gelsinger, VMware CEO, he told me about his passion for this topic and how this passion was ignited on our campus when he was an engineering student working with John Hennessy. With the right foundation and support, we can change the statistics once and for all.

Learn more about how VMware is harnessing the power of human difference through their
VMinclusion program by watching the video below.