Typically, young women who excel in math and science are pushed toward careers in math, science or engineering.
Cara Putman would like to add another option.
“Business is a fantastic place for strong STEM students,” says Putman, director of the Brock-Wilson Center for Women in Business and clinical assistant professor. “We want to recruit top young people from around the country, provide great opportunities while they are here, and graduate women who are holistic, confident leaders.”
Through programming for high school students, experiential learning and networking for current students, and strategies gained through gender-based research, the Brock-Wilson Center prepares women to overcome gender obstacles in the workplace.
“We want to provide an opportunity for them to make a difference,” Putman says.
In partnership with Purdue’s Summer College for High School Students, the Brock-Wilson Center offers an annual program, the Empowering Women in Business Fun-Sized Course. Designed for rising juniors and seniors, the five-day residential program on the West Lafayette campus includes hands-on activities to promote team building and skills in leadership, confidence and negotiation.
The course, which draws more than 100 students annually, is offered for college credit and introduces students to the business principles of economics, strategy, marketing, supply chain and finance. It concludes with a team business plan pitch to a panel of judges. Students are introduced to a week of college-style living while developing a network of peers.
“My school encouraged us to come to this camp,” says Leyla Benjelloun from Fishers, Indiana. “It was a good way to expand and use our summer and was a great experience overall, especially the pitch competition. I would definitely recommend it to others who are interested in business.”
High school students also can learn about the center’s activities through sessions with the Brock-Wilson Center for Women in Business Ambassadors, a group of students who conduct sessions during the Purdue’s for Me days on campus.
Once students enroll at Purdue, they can choose from a menu of courses and extracurricular experiences. Navigating Gender in the Workplace (MGMT 29400) examines the impact of gender in the work environment and how to develop leadership strategies to help achieve higher levels of performance. Bridging the Gender Divide at Work (MGMT 29450) pairs students with career mentors to examine real experiences of women in the workplace.
Accomplished professionals travel to campus as part of the Intersectionality Speaker Series, highlighting the narratives of men and women who discuss the gender equity obstacles they faced and how they successfully overcame them.
First-year students can participate in the Women in Business Learning Community. Physically located in Meredith Hall South, the community provides a support network for women as well as field trips, teambuilding activities, and mentoring and networking events.
“Our school has more than 3,000 students, but a learning community has 20 to 30,” Putman says. “Even a large university can feel very personal when you’re in a learning community, and you gain a sense of belonging."
Providing an opportunity to put classroom learning into action the Brock-Wilson Center conducts the PowerShift Case Competition. Students explore real issues related to gender in the workplace and improve their communication skills as they present their findings. The most recent case focused on COVID-19 implications for working women.
“We’ve all seen the studies and research that shows that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women having to leave the workforce because of situations like schools being shut down. Students create plans to present to a business on how they can minimize the impacts for women, which gives them a chance to look at a real-world issue and advocate for a plan that balances the gender divide in a way they can understand,” Putman says.
The Brock-Wilson Center for Women in Management is named after Purdue alumna Jane Brock-Wilson. A Lafayette native and Purdue undergraduate, Brock-Wilson made a $1 million gift to provide undergraduate scholarships for women in business. Her gift resulted in a $1.5 million match from the Purdue Research Foundation for a total of $2.5 million to advance women in the workforce.
Brock-Wilson joined Berkshire Partners in 1991 and became managing director in 1994. Now a senior advisor to the company, she served as a director of several of Berkshire’s business services, consumer products and industrial management companies.
“Jane Brock-Wilson is one of the finest alumni Purdue has ever produced,” says Purdue President Mitch Daniels. “With this wonderful gift, we increase the chances that the world will benefit from more great businesswomen like her in the decades ahead.”
A key component of the Brock-Wilson Center for Women in Management is the research conducted by faculty to advance the knowledge of challenges that women face in the workforce. In addition to helping develop best practices and strategies for employees, management and organizations to improve workplace conditions for women, the research is integrated into the school’s curriculum to give students leading-edge knowledge to employ as they begin their careers.
Ellen Ernst Kossek, Basil S. Turner Distinguished Professor and research fellow in the Brock-Wilson Center, is a nationally acclaimed expert in work-life boundaries and women’s career equality. She has organized research-to-practice conferences on breaking bias to advance gender and diversity and an NSF workshop to bring together scholars on management and diversity on the organizational science of fostering work-life inclusion in employment settings.
Faculty affiliates work with the center to help outline challenges faced and develop strategies to prepare women and men to lead and excel in a diverse workforce and changing social climate. One example is Kasie Roberson, a clinical assistant professor who teaches courses in managerial communication.
“Kasie and I have created a series of workshops designed around core communication skills such as emotional intelligence, audience analysis, and executive presence,” Putman says. “Those types of skills take someone from being a good communicator to a highly effective communicator.”
Putman is pleased with what the center currently provides, and even more excited about the future possibilities.
“Our goal is to work with faculty and students to create an environment where young women are valued,” Putman says. “We want them to know they will have a voice here and we want them to step into leadership roles. It reinforces the concept that business provides many excellent ways for young women to make a significant contribution to the world around them.
“We want to become the premiere program in the Big Ten. We want to provide opportunities that are recognized as the standard setters. Our goal is to take the things we do well, add to them, and scale them to a level that no one has even dreamed about.”