Listen to this article
When Han Wang was offered a job at a technology company in Switzerland, she knew it was an unusual outcome for someone who spoke little German and hailed from outside Europe — even if she did hold a top degree from one of the country’s best business schools.
Labels such as “non-European” and “non-German speaker” may sound like a disadvantage, says Ms Wang, a first-year management trainee at Bühler. “But flip it around. I am from China and have worked in the US — such a package of experiences is difficult to find in the European labour market.”
Ms Wang, 28, graduated last year from the masters in strategy and international management course at Switzerland’s University of St Gallen. The programme has topped the Financial Times rankings of masters in management (MiM) courses every year since 2011.
There was nothing unusual in Ms Wang’s choice, of course. The MiM is the business course at St Gallen that appeals most to women, who represented 40 per cent of the 2017 cohort compared with 31 per cent for the MBA and 19 per cent for the masters in finance programme. MiMs are designed for graduates who are about to embark on a career, while MBAs are for those who want to develop their existing career.
Women are in a minority at most business schools, but FT data show that when they do choose business education, many opt for a MiM.
Why, and what careers do they embark on?
Felix Papier, dean of academic programmes at Essec business school near Paris and director of the school’s MiM, says it is the flexibility of the programme that attracts women. He says: “You can explore different career options before you choose your specialisation.”
Lucia Casagranda, an Italian who will graduate from Essec’s MSc in management this year, says: “Overall, [the course] was roughly equally split, but we were more girls than boys in my specialisation in luxury.” The 24-year-old is working as a junior project manager for Cartier, where she develops strategies for sales of the company’s one-off pieces of jewellery — the so-called “high jewellery” business.
Ms Casagranda had previously completed an internship with the luxury accessories company as part of her course, and she will be able to graduate from Essec once she finishes her compulsory 18 months of work experience at Cartier.
Both Ms Casagranda and Mr Papier say there is a preponderance of women at the management level of luxury companies. Just over 60 per cent of Cartier’s global workforce is female, and Ms Casagranda estimates the proportion of women in her own department of 45 people is close to 90 per cent. “My department is headed by a woman,” she says, “and out of the five managers who report to her, four are women.”
Depending on the country, a typical starting salary for someone with Ms Casagranda’s qualifications and experience is €40,000-€45,000 plus bonus. She says she is paid more in France than she would be in her native Italy.
At this stage in her career, Ms Casagranda is not worried about a gender pay gap. “It is not a big problem for young professionals, but it will for sure materialise when I reach a director’s position,” she says, adding that the proportion of men working in luxury businesses increases with the seniority of the roles.
Tatiana Hoy is a career counsellor at the University of St Gallen. When advising women how to navigate the start of their careers, the question of pay is a challenge. “During mock interviews, when I ask ‘What do you want to make?’, more women than men feel uncomfortable naming a price,” Ms Hoy says. Her advice is to research beforehand what salary to expect and not to rely on the employer being fair. “You have to know what you are worth.”
Young women, Ms Hoy says, tend to focus on what they cannot do, rather than what they can. If the graduates have low self-confidence, she encourages them to list their strengths and learn how to speak about them positively during an interview.
Ms Wang, who had worked in many parts of the world before joining Bühler, says young women’s circumstances will vary depending on where they secure a job.
When she worked in North America, she says, it felt less taboo to talk about the gender pay gap, and in Switzerland flexible working is popular. “I have a colleague who works part-time and so does her husband,” she says. “But she still takes more time off work, as she earns less.”
Tatiana Hoy’s top early-career tips for women
- Self-reflection: What kind of workplace culture do you want? What do you need to be happy in your job — is it power? Be honest with yourself
- Find a role model: If your boss is not supportive, or too senior, find a another role model who can help you climb the hierarchy
- Have a target: Make sure your short-term actions align with your long-term goal
- Salary negotiation: Do your research and compare your expectations to those of other people; assess critically what you are worth and give a number when you negotiate
When it comes to landing a job, French-born Alicia Bergere, who graduated from a MiM course at the University of Sydney business school, cautions against following too closely the standard advice on what recruiters want to hear.
Now a financial analyst for professional services firm Deloitte in Australia, she was present when managers discussed potential candidates for the following year’s graduate trainee scheme. “The ones who stood out were different and were not saying the things we are taught to say,” the 24-year-old comments.
“Business books tell you how to behave during interviews,” she says. Her experiences tell her that women should do whatever makes them feel at ease. “If we say what we think is the ‘right thing’, then we can’t stand out.”
The author is a data journalist for the FT’s Work & Careers section