The sun shines into Diana Bilimoria’s fourth-floor office, casting an amber glow in the room. Though it’s 30 degrees outside, sharing company with her is like having a warm cup of tea: inviting, soothing, good for the soul. Quick to listen and slow to speak, she follows every word as if she’s stowing it away. When you leave the conversation, you may see things another way, a better way.
My role models are the silent majority of women worldwide who do their jobs, run their families, raise their children the right way, sacrifice and serve.
Integrity, vision and values communicated in a way that inspire others are essential in a good leader.
I don’t see why a woman who wants to advance in her career can’t do it while having a full life. Organizations shouldn’t force women to choose.
“She’s a Mother-Earth kind of person everyone wants to be around,” says Diana Fox, an MBA student at Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University. “Diana motivated me to embrace my strengths and take responsibility to do what inspires me. I remember one of the last things she left us with was the question: ‘What’s your excuse for not accepting greatness?’ ”
Having spent more than two decades championing the advancement of women and challenging them to think big, Bilimoria’s message is perhaps more relevant now than ever.
“Women are ideally suited for the requirements of leadership,” says Bilimoria, who offers a popular MBA-level course on Women in Organizations. “Resourceful, creative, inclusive, developmental, energizing others to be excellent: These are the very things that make women suited to lead.”
Women don’t face the same barriers they did 20 years ago, Bilimoria says. There’s also a consciousness among young people — men and women alike — about integrating work and life in ways that were unthinkable before.
As hopeful as she is about women’s progress in the work world (they make up almost half of American workers and earn more university degrees than men), she says there’s still much to be accomplished — specifically in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Bilimoria’s recent book, Gender Equity in Science and Engineering, challenges universities to address the lack of women’s leadership in STEM professions.
“STEM is the place where small changes will have a big ripple effect,” says Bilimoria, whose grant work has focused on advancing women faculty in these fields at CWRU and other campuses across the nation. “More women faculty will increase women students, which will mean more female employees [in STEM professions].”
Those “small changes,” says Bilimoria, often begin with shifting the way we think. At CWRU, she says, that meant changing policies to make the university more inclusive and family-friendly. For instance, an early grant co-authored by Bilimoria provided small amounts of funding for female faculty in STEM fields to take child care support — whether it be a nanny, grandparent or partner — to important career-making conferences.
“She could attend those critical meetings and social receptions — things that often happen in the evening — while someone looked after her child,” Bilimoria says. “We were one of the first universities to implement this small culture change.”
The younger of two children, Bilimoria grew up in Mumbai, India. Her father, an accountant, and mother, a secretarial assistant, were Bilimoria’s first role models. They instilled virtues of kindness, integrity and perseverance in their daughter.
“My dad was very generous and would always take the utmost care of his employees,” Bilimoria remembers. “He made sure they were compensated well. He gave money to various individuals and causes he believed in. He would always make time for people.”
Bilimoria’s mother was one of the first in her family to graduate college. Later she pursued a career that allowed her to support her own family — a rare achievement for women of her generation, Bilimoria says.
“I really learned about self-determination,” she says. “My mom set the example of hard work, investing in your education and work experience”
Bilimoria received her bachelor’s degree in Mumbai and worked in human resources at a multinational hotel company. In 1984, she arrived in the United States to pursue a doctorate in business administration. Five years later, she joined the faculty at CWRU, where she has won the Doctoral Teaching Excellence Award and been nominated for the MBA Teaching Award several times. But it’s her human touch that arguably makes the most profound impact.
“You always feel good about yourself when you’re around Diana,” says Lynn T. Singer, CWRU deputy provost. “She sees the good in everything and everyone and in turn, inspires us to do the same.”