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Glancing through the FT MBA rankings, one statistic will invariably catch your eye: the ratio of men to women in MBA classes. At some business schools, the female population sits below 20 per cent, while others boast a healthier ratio above 30 per cent.
Coming from an undergraduate programme that was dominated by women (I studied art history and journalism), I was surprised by the small female representation within MBA classes. But then again, these numbers are an indication of a larger trend: business is dominated by men. It’s an undeniable fact that men dominate the majority of business roles, except for certain areas such as marketing and HR. In business, it’s a man’s world and that only becomes more evident as you move up the corporate ladder into the top executive and boardroom levels.
By simply looking at the numbers, the odds would appear to be against women progressing to the top business echelons in many areas. However, I believe that an MBA is one of many options available to help women break into the male-dominated business world.
How does an MBA education help prepare women for roles in business?
● An MBA helps groom and prepare students for the challenges ahead, whether they be in strategy, finance, management, operations or marketing. But it also helps women learn how to ensure that their voices are heard amongst the crowd, despite being outnumbered.
For example, in the first semester at Saïd administrators split students into study groups and I was the only woman in my group of six. At first, I was slightly intimidated, but ultimately, I found it was a valuable experience. This group exercise helped me better understand some of the nuanced differences between working with men and women; a valuable lesson for the future. Any woman who plans to run her own energy company or sit on a board of directors will have to know how to work effectively in a male-dominated environment. An MBA can help women prepare for these scenarios.
● Female MBA students often have the opportunity to take part in numerous women-focused events. During my MBA, I was invited to at least a dozen events relating to women in business. I specifically enjoyed attending one small event in Oxford hosted by the group “Inspiring Women in Leadership and Learning.” Female faculty and consultants spoke about practical solutions to women-related business problems. During the session, it was mentioned that women are often interrupted when they speak during business meetings. It was also pointed out that women may feel overpowered by men at work simply because of height differences. These sound like trivial issues, but they are surprisingly significant in the workforce. Students were encouraged to ask questions drawn from personal experiences and solutions were discussed. My classmates and I came away with a new outlook on asserting ourselves in the workplace.
● Business education opens doors to many high-powered networks. Through my MBA, I have had access to extraordinary events and people: I attended an event where the UK prime minister, David Cameron, spoke about UK business development; I secured funding promises from highly successful venture capitalists; I lunched at the United Nations office in London, and I attended a speech by the renowned human rights activist and archbishop emeritus, Desmond Tutu. I have also met many inspirational, influential people who are now acting as my mentors.
Having privileged access to formal and informal networks of prominent, well-connected people is a huge perk of the MBA. It is something that all students, both male and female, should take advantage of as they advance in their careers. As a woman, it is especially important to meet and befriend key people who will sing your praises and ensure you are considered for promotions and new opportunities. Effective networking is one way for women to climb the corporate ladder more efficiently and an MBA can put you on the right track for networking success.
While an MBA cannot prepare students for all of life’s challenges, I firmly believe it plays an important role in helping women achieve greater success in their careers. The lessons learned through group work and women’s events, plus the opportunities provided through MBA networks, can truly empower women.
I am glad that I recently completed my MBA and am looking forward to harnessing my education and business networks as I take the next few important steps in my life and career.