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Shattering the Glass Ceiling with Emotional Intelligence in Yale’s Short Course on Women’s Leadership

Written by Bannon Puckett on Aug 26, 2021

Related content: Diversity And Inclusion, Short Courses, Leadership

August 26 is Women’s Equality Day in the U.S., commemorating the 1920 adoption of the Constitution’s 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. While the day goes beyond civil rights to celebrate all of women’s remarkable strides and contributions to society over the last century, it’s also a time for action and reflection, as women’s struggles to be heard, valued, and empowered to lead charges on.

According to Grant Thornton International, 31% of senior management positions globally in 2021 are held by women, up from 25% in 2017. While that’s a 6% increase in four years’ time, women remain underrepresented in leadership roles. Through online short courses in women’s leadership education, 2U has partnered with four top university programs—the Yale School of Management, the Syracuse University Whitman School of Management, the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and the University of Stellenbosch Business School—to help equip more women with the knowledge, skills, resources, and opportunities they need to become tomorrow’s business visionaries.

For Emma Seppälä, faculty director and a lecturer for the Yale School of Management Women’s Leadership Program, it’s courses like hers that she believes provide the building blocks for women to feel empowered. Read on for her perspective on the characteristics that make for a great leader, how she teaches those vital attributes in the course, and her vision for the future (Hint: Who run the world? Girls!)

EQ is one of the most important skills for leaders to develop—especially in these times of high stress. A leader's ability to handle emotions in themselves and their team has a direct impact on their potential for success.
— Emma Seppälä, faculty director and lecturer, Yale School of Management Women’s Leadership Program

The Link Between EQ and Success

“Emotional intelligence, positive leadership, and a knack for innovation—these are the keys to successful leadership now and for the future of work,” she says. “In the Yale women’s leadership course, we teach women leaders how to tap into all of these areas within themselves. My co-convenor for the course, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior Rodrigo Canales, and I share with them a variety of powerful, values-driven techniques they can use to better understand who they are at their best self and how to apply their strengths professionally.”

As a psychologist with expertise in emotional intelligence, positive leadership, and social connection, Seppälä also leverages her international upbringing and work experience for teaching the course. “In my work with leaders from around the globe, we know that emotional intelligence is one of the most important skills for leaders to develop—especially in these times of high stress,” she explains. “A leader's ability to handle emotions in themselves and their team has a direct impact on their potential for success. Emotions can positively or negatively influence decision-making, judgement, relationships, creativity, focus, attention, and memory.”

“In the course, our unit on emotional intelligence—often referred to as EQ vs. IQ—covers recognizing emotions in yourself and in others, and then expressing or regulating them for optimal outcomes,” Seppälä continues. “Participants learn the science behind emotional intelligence and gain practical tools to enhance their own EQ.”

Women Leaders as Role Models

Throughout the course, which is open to all women and those who support them, Seppälä layers in a wealth of interviews with women leaders who offer real-world insight into the online curriculum. “One of the female leaders I interview—Etelle Higonnet, a senior advisor at the National Wildlife Foundation and a Yale Law School graduate—is also someone I personally look up to,” she says. “Etelle models positive leadership and is also incredibly effective and successful at what she does. She’s a great example of why and how positive leadership and emotional intelligence are powerful predictors of success.”

Seppälä points course participants to research that shows how building a more diverse workforce, with more women in C-suite positions, leads to greater innovation and improved culture. “The research also shows that women tend to have more emotional intelligence than men,” she says. “In fact, women score higher than men in most leadership skills. As a consequence, that may make women more adaptable to navigating future-forward modes of communication and interaction like novel and digital workspaces.”

The Importance of Self-Compassion

In addition to the persistent “glass ceiling,” Seppälä notes another significant barrier standing between women and their potential for success: their relationship with themselves: “Research shows there is only so far you can go if you are highly self-critical. However, if you have a strong sense of self-compassion, you become more psychologically resilient and much more likely to grow from challenges and learn from mistakes.”

“After teaching thousands of women in these leadership programs, I’ve observed that they often have a great need for self-compassion and self-care, which we explore at length in the program,” Seppälä concludes. “Hundreds of course participants have reached out with so much gratitude. My perspective is, the greatest revolution we’ll see on this planet is the day that women start loving themselves as much as they love others. Then watch out world!”

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