The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Advancing Women in Their Careers — University of California Women’s Initiative for Professional Development

What is it that I bring to the table? What is it that I would like to bring to the table? How can making my strengths more visible at work make a difference in my career?

Each cohort of the University of California (UC) Women’s Initiative grapples with these questions throughout the three-month program. The goal of the initiative is to elevate UC-employed women in their careers and share their value to the organization. The highly sought-after program is offered to mid-career women faculty, academic personnel and staff who demonstrate the potential to advance their careers at UC.

In a session at this year’s CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo, Terry Barton, director of systemwide staff development programs at the UC office of the president, shared some of the challenges UC-employed women face and how the Women’s Initiative program is helping them address and overcome those challenges.


Women make up 50 percent of the workforce at UC’s 18 locations but represent only 40 percent of senior-level positions. Furthermore, UC-employed women don’t believe they have access to professional development and growth opportunities. Additionally, most open positions at UC are filled by external candidates, and internal candidates are often underprepared to take on next-level positions.

Making Way for Progress

The Women’s Initiative program launched in 2016 and boasts more than 370 graduates. Women can nominate themselves or be nominated for the program. Each UC location has its own selection criteria and selects its own participants.

Participants, who represent different functions and departments at each UC location, meet with and learn from top UC leaders and strengthen critical professional skills through hands-on, interactive sessions that cover professional development and impact, strategic relationship-building, developing and delivering a compelling professional narrative, negotiating at work, peer coaching and more.

The aim of the program is to help women build strategic relationships, actively communicate their value to the organization, advocate for their needs in the workplace, coach others to demonstrate their value to the organization, increase awareness of diverse UC career paths and develop a professional narrative.

Program Impact

In its short time in existence, the program has made a significant impact:

  • Ninety-eight percent of graduates have remained employed at UC;
  • Twenty-three graduates have made career moves after participating in the program;
  • Nine in ten participants say the program positively impacted their self-assessment of their future potential;
  • Three-quarters of participants say it provided new growth opportunities; and
  • Eighty-six percent of participants say it aided them in their professional development.

What’s Next?

Program leaders are currently brainstorming ways to accommodate more women; continuing to develop regional and systemwide networks; looking at how to incorporate topics like equity and inclusion, implicit bias and intersectionality; evaluating broader program impact; working with program graduates to develop a new evaluation format and process; and devising ways the program can benefit applicants who were not chosen to participate.


The CUPA-HR national office will be closed July 4 in observance of Independence Day.