“There’s something special that happens when you get a group of powerful women in a room… and shut the door,” wrote Andrea Wong in the forward of her book, “Secrets of Powerful Women: Leading Change for a New Generation.”
Wong, the former president and CEO of Lifetime Network, describes what precisely happened in the summer of 2008 when Lifetime, in partnership with CosmoGirl!, gave 16 teenage girls exclusive access to dozens of the most politically influential women in America. “Behind closed doors,” she wrote, “seasoned politicians of both parties let down their guards and shared intimate details of their professional and personal experiences with great candor, humor, and grace.”
Something similar started in November 2016 in Boise State University’s Upward Bound program. On Tuesday nights, high school women participating in the college preparation program met with a diverse group of regional leaders from all sectors to share in readings and discussion of Wong’s book. Caldwell High School senior Lydia Flores says that as a Hispanic woman, she connected with the “Book Club,” as it became known, because it was a safe place to talk about issues affecting Hispanic women and women of color who aspired to leadership positions.
There, she and other first-generation students asked and heard other students ask questions they’d been harboring about their futures.
“In my AP classes, there are fewer Hispanic women,” she explains. “I felt I should speak up more and represent the Hispanic women more.” So it was that the Book Club evening with Idaho Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb struck a particular chord with Flores when she spoke about the multiple pressures on women of color in leadership positions.
“Book Club” was the brainchild of Boise State Upward Bound educational specialist Josh Engler. His Upward Bound classes included many high school women in leadership positions, such as class presidents and yearbook editors who were from low-income backgrounds and might be the first in their families to go college. He was concerned that these women lacked leadership training and mentoring commensurate to their goals.
Then he found himself among a handful of men attending last fall’s panel presentation “Women in Leadership: Empowering Career Growth Through Storytelling and Mentorship” at COE’s 35th Annual Conference. The panel focused on the importance of taking leadership roles and connecting with mentors about challenges and successes specific to leadership.
“I left inspired and wanting to find ways to connect the young women in my program to women leaders in my community, particularly women of color,” he says.
Engler got to work immediately. He connected with panel participant Kimberly Jones, COE Vice President for Public Policy and Communications, who referred him to like-minded thinkers in Washington, D.C., and Boise. Soon he built a schedule of eight influential women speakers* who could each commit to reading parts of Wong’s book with the Upward Bound students and leading them in discussions on topics from politics and speaking up to golf.
Engler’s second book club, open to all Upward Bound students at Caldwell High School, kicks off this week with Caldwell mayor Garret Nancolas facilitating a discussion of John C. Maxwell’s book, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader.
- Betsy Hunsicker, Chief Executive Officer, West Valley Medical Center
- Cristina Medrano, School Counselor, Washington Elementary School
- Shalene French and Anita Wilson, Superintendent, and Principal, Caldwell School District
- Sherri Ybarra, Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction
- Tess Hamzeh, Data Analyst, Hewlett-Packard
- Kimberly Jones and Selene Ceja, Public Policy and Communications, Council for Opportunity in Education
- Cherie Buckner-Webb, Idaho Senator (District 19)
- Maria Mabbutt, Small Business Owner, Power of Translation