Nancy Mansfield went to college in the early 1970s, when the second wave of feminism was in full swing. She saw Gloria Steinem speak and remembers how the energy of the time—“the thought that I could go to grad school, go to law school, have a big, professional career,” she says—made her feel empowered. “All of a sudden, the world began to open up for women.”
In 2015, after three decades as a professor of legal studies at Georgia State University, Mansfield got the opportunity to create that energy for a new generation when she became the founding director of WomenLead, a class that aims to level the playing field between women and men. While women outnumber men in college, only about 10 percent of C-suite jobs are held by women, and the numbers for nonwhite women are even lower. In WomenLead, practical training (networking help, corporate visits) and self-knowledge (personality tests, constructing a personal “story” for interviews) help students build confidence in themselves, their skills in the professional world, and their abilities to impact their communities. Her classes include discussions around maternity leave, diversity, and workplace harassment. Students learn their rights and leave feeling inspired. “Sometimes, they come out of the program and say, ‘I feel like I’m ready to change the world,’” says Mansfield, 66.
Her class has grown to include several sections—some focused on specific industries, like science, business, and politics—and reaches some 200 students each year. She hopes the program will continue to expand. For Mansfield, this work has re-energized her career and made her optimistic about the future. “When you get to mentor someone, and see their professional growth and success, you get as much back,” says Mansfield. “When you educate a woman, you educate the world.”