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The Moxie Project working to help women improve leadership prospects

When it comes to executive careers for women, the common buzzwords have become all too familiar.

Glass ceilings, gender pay gaps and demeaning (or worse) behavior by male colleagues, while all reportedly improving, remain significant barriers for women looking to improve their work situations.

But the three women behind The Moxie Project, a six-month intensive executive boot camp officially launched last month, believe they may offer a key to helping to develop female influencers.

moxie project
Moxie co-founders Denise D’Agostino, Ellen Keithline Byrne and Karen Kirchner.

“We took a lot of our own experiences and delved into the research that’s out there to see how we could go about developing women leaders,” said Ellen Keithline Byrne, a Wilton resident who co-founded consulting firm Moxie-Leaders with Karen Kirchner of Fairfield and Denise D’Agostino of Somers, New York. “We believe that for an organization to keep its relevancy in today’s marketplace there needs to be diversity at the top.”

The three women have been in the leadership development, executive coaching and/or talent management business for decades. Byrne has been a consultant to such companies as Xerox and JPMorgan Chase as well as Fairfield nonprofit Save the Children. Kirchner spent years in HR at Reader’s Digest and Citigroup before launching her own executive and team-coaching consultancy. D’Agostino was head of HR at Bayer HealthCare and Ciba Specialty Chemicals.

The trio developed their relationship over the years as they kept crossing paths at conferences and on conference calls, Byrne said. “About two years ago we were on a conference call talking about the frustration that women can feel at work,” she said, “and about how so many can feel stuck in their early to mid careers.”

The decision was made to go forward and form what became The Moxie Project, which combines executive coaching, skill building and peer group meetings to help determine potential in women and to accelerate career advancement. Program elements include 360-degree assessments, intensive feedback, videotaping, one-on-one coaching, skill development and peer coaching.

The initial assessments are done in-person and “encourage the participant to reflect on their strengths and where they feel they need improvement,” D’Agostino explained. “Then we go to other people in their organization — their seniors, peers and managers — to get an external perspective, and combine all of that to create each person’s development goal.”

In this way a cookie-cutter approach is avoided, she said.

Moxie’s first pilot program, which ran June through December of last year, drew eight participants and garnered enough positive feedback that Byrne said a number of large companies have since expressed interest in getting their own female executives involved.

Moxie project
Attendees at The Moxie Project kick-off event last June.

“We had participants from insurance, technology, marketing, entertainment and nonprofits,” she said. “They all reported having a higher degree of self-confidence, a more senior-level presence and being more assertive in meetings.” One participant said that her manager, coming up on retirement, planned to recommend her as her replacement, “which she previously hadn’t even thought was possible.”

Sixteen women are in the workshop that began Jan. 29 and runs through June. Taking the six-month approach helps send the message that Moxie is going much further than quickie self-help seminars, D’Agostino said.

“So many of these programs are a single all-day event or two-hour workshop,” she said. “You come out of them feeling all ‘rah-rah,’ but they usually don’t do much to shift or enhance leadership capacities.”

Also underscoring the seriousness of Moxie’s approach is the price tag — $8,100 — which D’Agostino said has been underwritten by employers who understand and embrace the Moxie mission.

The participants hardly need an extra jolt, the women said. “They’re hungry for this,” Byrne stated. “We haven’t had any issue with accountability or people finding the time to attend their peer meetings. If anything they’ve jumped in and taken ownership more than we’d anticipated.”

Potential clients are being acquired through word of mouth, social media and speaking engagements in front of such big-name concerns as Major League Baseball and the Women Builders Council in Manhattan, D’Agostino said.

While Moxie is targeting Fairfield and Westchester counties, New York City and northern New Jersey, it is also rolling out an international workshop under the auspices of Shelton-based BIC Corp., for whom Kirchner has consulted. Participants in that program, conducted largely by video conferencing, are from Poland, Spain, France, the U.K. and the U.S.


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