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At the Womensphere pan-European summit in October, a conference for aspiring businesswomen hosted at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, the emerging markets was high on the agenda.
Many at the summit see studying for an MBA in one of the Bric countries as the first step on the road to becoming a successful businesswoman. But for those women currently studying in these regions, business school brings with it challenges as well as opportunities.
For Zilan Cai, an MBA student at Ceibs in Shanghai, the work/family balance was her biggest concern. Having worked as a journalist for 10 years, Ms Cai had to take over the family textile business (Fentai), after her father lost his right hand in a work-related accident. She decided an MBA would provide her with the necessary tools for the job.
However in practice this has meant leaving her infant son with her parents in her home town of Zhitang Town, Changshu city and having a long distance relationship with her husband, who is based in Beijing.
“My family was not so supportive of my decision,” Ms Cai says, “and neither was my husband.” However, she believes an MBA will help her to open her mind and learn from others.
Ceibs does not offer childcare facilities, so Ms Cai returns to Zhitang each week to visit her son and check in on the family business.
So far, she believes her compromise has paid off. Her studies alerted her to the need for up to date technology, something she is now putting into practice. “My factory was the first in the region to import machinery for textile making, which has reduced labour to three people instead of 20,” she says – a significant advantage as China has grown increasingly competitive over the past few years.
And she has found a potential business partner. “I have been speaking to one of my classmates who has a trading company for gloves so we think there is scope for collaboration.”
Kaumudi Goda, an MBA student at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, also finds the balancing act between work and family a challenge. Her husband is based in New York and travels to Hyderabad to see her as she has no spare time.
ISB does offer childcare facilities, however, which has helped significantly as she has two young children. “It’s a huge plus point,” she says. There is also an informal group in her class, the “mums”, who meet once a week for dinner to discuss their goals and experiences.
Ms Goda is keeping her options open, applying for jobs in India and overseas. However, encouraged by the progress of others, she thinks a future in India for her family is a distinct possibility. “I’ve noticed a lot of my colleagues and friends moving back and they were very happy with the move. The biggest deals are happening in New York, but there are exciting opportunities in India. It is exciting how much Indian companies now value MBA graduates.”
In both Ceibs and ISB the number of women enrolled on MBA programmes is low, with Ceibs at 33 per cent and ISB at 29 per cent. But both women remain unaffected by the gender inequality.
“It never even occurred to me that I’m in a minority,” says Ms Goda.