St. Joseph Sponsors Bi-national Leadership Program For Women in Saudi Arabia

June 4th, 2010 by TCC Leave a reply »

Michelle Stronz had a vision of starting a global leadership institute for women that would be held each summer. The St. Joseph College business professor thought it should start overseas, and come back to the United States every other year.

Tonight, Stronz and seven Hartford-area women depart for the first-ever institute – in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom may seem like an unusual place to cultivate leadership roles for women. Fewer than 15 percent of Saudi women work outside the home, the lowest in the Arab world, and only 5 percent of Saudi women work in business. The majority of Saudi women with jobs are teachers.

But Stronz said that in her 13 trips to the kingdom, she’s met women in very prominent positions in business, education and government, as the nation has become more liberal under King Abdullah.

“In the last five years, he’s made great strides,” she said.

He had set a goal to increase women’s workforce participation from 5 percent six years ago to 15 percent in 2009, and nearly reached it. He founded the first coeducational university in the kingdom, where the leadership institute will be held.

In 2008, the Ministry of Labor gave women the option of choosing to work. Before 2008, a male relative had to give permission. That same year, women were given the right to interact with men in a business environment. Members of the liberal, educated elite are still pushing for the right for women to drive, and for the right for women to vote in municipal elections.

“It’s not long before women will become full and complete partners in society,” Stronz said.

The Saudi government is paying for the institute, including most of the travel costs for the American participants. Stronz did not have an estimate for the total cost of the program.

Teresa Younger, executive director of Connecticut’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, is one of the students in the institute.

“We sometimes think of leadership as the person is out in front of you,” Younger said. But she said that when women are leaders “it’s how we make things happen behind the scenes. How we nurture.”

Stronz said the wide gap in U.S. and Saudi cultures will be a learning experience for both country’s participants.

“Western women have a lot of preconceived notions about women in that part of the world,” said Megan Torrey, program director at Connecticut World Affairs Council. She said she expects to have “a very different perspective when I come home.”

About 30 women applied for the chance to travel to Jeddah, and Stronz chose the attendees. Others making the trip will be Lucille Janatka, CEO of Midstate Medical Center; Melinda Brayton of aid to Artisans; Judi Otton of Advanced Decisions; Eileen Hasson of The Computer Company; and Anne Evans of the U.S. Department of Commerce in Middletown.

The women will blog about their experience at

Article by: Mara Lee,

Mara Lee, “St. Joseph Sponsors Bi-national Leadership Program for Women in Saudi Arabia”, Hartford Courant. June 2, 2010. <,0,7035156.story>


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