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As the push for more women at the top continues, one business school in the US has decided to tackle the issue at MBA level. In a course titled Developing Women Leaders: Cultivating your Human and Social Capital, Georgetown University McDonough School of Business aims to help women succeed in the workplace after graduation.
While executive education now offers numerous opportunities to focus on women’s issues, specialised courses at the MBA level are rare. The course at McDonough is based on research that showed that three activities help in empowering women: rigorous research documenting gender dynamics; active workshops on the practical skills women need in their careers; and listening to other women.
“We have had decades of women graduating from business school and entering the workplace. Obviously business as usual is not working,” says Catherine Tinsley, who created the six-week course following her work on the Georgetown University Women’s Leadership Initiative, a networking programme that aims to connect female students with established female leaders. “Looking at the research, there are a lot of subtle skills that will help women advance – how to negotiate for a rise, for example.”
On the first class, offered to second-year MBA students, 30 women have enrolled from the full female cohort of 81. Kristen McGrath is one of them and says she joined for two reasons: her experience working with Prof Tinsley on the GUWLI and her belief that she will encounter problems in the workplace when she graduates this summer.
The problems relate to the ‘double bind,’ Ms McGrath explains. This means that while strong leaders are expected to be assertive, women are supposed to be feminine as well.
So far, Ms McGrath believes she has benefited most from the active workshops. “I volunteered to do a visionary exercise in front of the class – what I would tell myself in five years,” she says. “It was a powerful experience, knowing where I want to go and how to prepare myself.”
Ms McGrath has also noticed a marked difference in her classmates’ behaviour. “In general, I’m not necessarily shy to raise my hand and express my opinion but other women hesitate. In this class, however, things are much more open and dynamic – everyone is speaking up and sharing their stories,” she says.
In the spirit of diversity, the course is also open to the school’s 164 male students in the second-year MBA cohort, but so far none have enrolled. Prof Tinsley admits this has proved somewhat of a blessing. “I’ve had so much fun walking into a class full of women. I never realised there would be a difference but I do feel freer to explore ideas and not have everything so rigorously researched.”
All the same, Prof Tinsley does hope men will eventually choose to join the course. “It would be interesting and challenging to include them – it is a dialogue that needs to take place,” she says. “Men need to be open to the discussion of gender issues and explore what those issues mean to them.” With its focus on creating a culture that maximises human talent, techniques taught on the course will also apply to men keen to advance their own careers.