Prof. Maria Cozette Akopian (Ray Pro photo)

First Ever Women’s Leadership Development Program is Coming to California State University, LA

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LOS ANGELES — A while ago I was invited to attend an online seminar with the title “How to Be Assertive and Not Aggressive as a Woman” on the job searching platform, Indeed. The moderators, two women in their 40s, were talking about the issues women face in the workplace, how they need to stand up for their rights and assertively say “no” to discrimination.

Until then, I never really thought about that. Of course, I was conscious about the barriers of acceptance coming from male coworkers. But my generation — Gen Xers — was more conservative than revolutionary anyway. At least that was the case in Armenia, where I grew up and started my career.

As it turns out, the picture isn’t that perfect in the US either. Even though 56 percent of the country’s workforce are women, they only occupy 15 percent of C-level executives’ positions. These are facts that Prof. Maria Cozette Akopian learned from her research. According to the same research, nine out of ten participants of her study had confidence issues.

“This says a lot about how women perceive themselves and are viewed in society,” she shares. She dug even deeper during her doctoral studies at the University of Southern California (USC) and finally decided to create a specific program made according to the needs of women: “Women First: Leadership and Professional Development Program.”

The program has been adopted by the California State University, Los Angeles’ College of Professional and Global Education. Akopian also serves as a marketing professor for the university’s College of Business and Economics. It is the first women’s leadership program in the university’s history; those finishing the course will qualify for a certificate.

Akopian’s research shows that organizations measure leadership according to masculine traits: Being assertive, demanding, more aggressive.

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“Women learn and lead differently. They are more empathetic, collaborative and actively work on team building. They are also pursuing a higher education at a faster and higher rate than man. Women have a number of unique challenges such as motherhood, social barriers, and societal misconceptions of what a female should be therefore it is necessary to offer a leadership development program that is specific to our needs and motivational influences,” she said.

As the program is being offered remotely, women from all around the world can take part in it. And for Akopian, it is a great opportunity to include women from Armenia.

She was born in Armenia and immigrated to the US when she was only one month old. During her visit to the homeland in 2018 she was collaborating with UNICEF and the AGBU, and through the Together4Armenia platform, she shared her experiences directly with a female audience.

Prof. Maria Cozette Akopian (Photo by Liana Grigoryan)

“In speaking to all the women there, I learned a great deal about their aspirations. I realized that many of them are very interested in leadership development so I feel that they would definitely benefit from the Women First program. Therefore, my program will be right for them.” This is her way to give back to her people. “And I never go to Armenia as my party destination. I never could understand how others even do that! Every visit entails some form of philanthropy. Investing our knowledge is one of the greatest things we can do for our Homeland,” she said.

I can’t help noticing a colorful row of outfits in the background where Akopian is sitting.

“Oh, those are my stage clothes,” she smiles. We take a slight turn to Maria’s “creative outlet” as she likes to call it — singing. For the Armenian community Maria Cozette is primarily known as a singer, songwriter, and TV host, which, again, never left her without challenges as a woman.

No matter what the challenges were, she never indulged self-pity as a justification when faced with obstacles.

“The moment you do that is the moment you lose. Whenever you face a challenge is when you have to find courage within to overcome any obstacle. Incidentally, because of the unique challenges women face, they become resilient. Resilience is a very key part of being a good leader so we are then, naturally well suited for leadership roles to revamp and rescue organizations.”

In 2009 Maria pioneered the first television English-language TV show to air on an Armenian network. “I approached every Armenian TV station who I had a relationship with through my music. I explained that to engage our Armenian youth in the diaspora, we must cater to them by having an English-language show discussing Armenian culture as they couldn’t grasp the complexity of the language spoken on television.” But the answers weren’t encouraging, based on mostly conservative views of preserving culture and identity. Finally, Horizon Armenian TV agreed to air her program. It was a huge success. “It gained massive popularity with the youth and they were given the opportunity to learn about our rich culture and performing arts,” she says proudly.

Does her creative outlet contradict her title as a professor? Apparently, it’s even helpful: A lot of her songs are inspired by her students. “It makes me very human and relatable to them. They see me as an atypical professor. My students see a bit of themselves in me and I think that helps in effectively engaging them,” she noted.

On October 27, Akopian with the Cal State LA’s College of Professional and Global Education will hold a webinar to answer all the questions about the Women First: Leadership and Professional Development Program.

Additional information can be found on WWW.calstatela.edu/dtla or by emailing to pageprograms@calstatela.edu.

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