By Kylie Blanchard ⼁Submitted Photos

The Women’s Leadership Program, a program of the Women’s Business Center within the Center for Technology and Business in Bismarck, has been empowering women leaders in North Dakota since 1999. The statewide effort focuses on key areas of leadership and helps women from across all professional and personal backgrounds build confidence, face adversity, and take risks to become strong leaders in their communities.

“We bring women together as leaders, and provide a platform where we can elevate them,” says Deb Eslinger, executive director of the Center for Technology. “We really focus on empowering these women.”

Bringing Women Together
“Six years ago we had this idea of bringing women together to build leaders,” says Deb.

This idea spurred the creation of the Women’s Leadership Program, a six month program in which participants focus on four key areas of leadership success, which include personal, professional, community, and health leadership.

The statewide program hosts sessions in Bismarck, Minot, and Fargo. Deidre Hillman is the program director for the Women’s Business Center. She says the program is open to all residents, including those in surrounding rural communities. Deidre says participants are selected through a review process and up to 20 women are chosen for each class.

“Women fill out an application and provide a letter of support, as well as a commitment to participate,” she notes.

The Women’s Leadership Program meets one day a month for six months to cover various topics related to leadership in both the participants’ professional and personal lives. The sessions held in Bismarck and Minot run annually from January to July and the Fargo class is held July to January.

“This group of women really ends up being a powerful inner circle,” adds Deb.

Making an Impact
Joanne Lassiter, assistant professor with the University of Mary’s graduate nursing program, recently completed Bismarck’s 2017 Women’s Leadership Program.

“I had heard great things about the program,” she says. “There are so many great women in our community and I wanted to be a part of that.”  

Joanne also enjoyed being a part of the networking opportunity the program provides.

“We all came together on a monthly basis and shared a common theme of leadership and how we as women can better ourselves in our positions and our community.”

Joanne says one of the program’s greatest impacts was when the women were paired up and asked to do a service project in the community.

“We were charged with the task of picking an organization in the community and making a difference.”

“We give the ladies $100 in seed money, and we want them to take it and grow it,” says Deb. “Since the beginning of the program, participants have raised more than $251,000 in cash and in-kind donations.”

Joanne and her partner, Sarah Rooney, directed their efforts toward Ministry on the Margins, an organization that supports men and women during transitional times. The pair raised nearly $1,900 in cash and in-kind donations.

“It was very humbling to see how giving people and the community are,” she says.

Building Leaders and Friendships
Joanne says the variety of speakers during the classes was also a valuable piece of the program.

“I also can’t say enough about Deb and Deidre. They were so energizing and filled the room with wisdom and excitement.”  

An alumni program is also available for participants to continue to be active in the program.

“It’s ongoing, because they do build these relationships. It’s important participants know this is a long-term investment,” explains Deidre.

“We also share what we’ve learned with our colleagues and encourage them to be part of this program,” says Joanne. “I’ve definitely used what I learned in my teaching.”

A total of 215 women have graduated from the Women’s Leadership Program and Deb says the magic of the program is in the forming of relationships.

“These 20 women come in on the first day as strangers and leave as strong, connected friends.”   

“We were able to better ourselves in what we do and how we lead and communicate,” adds Joanne. “It made me a better person in what I do both personally and professionally.”     

Applications for the 2018 Bismarck and Minot Women Leadership Programs are now being accepted through November 12. For additional information, and to apply, visit   

Kylie Blanchard

Kylie Blanchard is a local writer and editor, and busy mom of three, who enjoys both staying active with her family and the chance to just sit and read a good book.